Archive May 2007: nath

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Turning Stone $500, Part 2

One of the things that wasn't fully covered in my last post was what I did between the 200/400/50 and the 1000/2000/300 levels. Since I was only posting major pots I was involved in, I left these levels out because I didn't see a significant hand in between the two I posted. Still, though, I was not completely inactive; I had to pick up a couple of pots here and there to stay alive, and I got involved in a couple of hands.

I played a hand at 500/1000/100 that developed strangely because of a preflop mistake on my part. I still had somewhere around 25k and I decided to open to 3300 in early position with T8hh. Unfortunately, I didn't declare my raise amount (which is a rare thing for me, for precisely this reason), and I grabbed three yellow (500) chips instead of the blue 1k chips. So I only tossed 1800 into the pot. It was obviously ruled a minimum raise; so I completed the extra 200. In late position, a young Internet player who was fond of playing "smallball" and making really undersized bets, went and made it the 3300 that I had intended. I was caught in kind of a strange situation, but decided I obviously couldn't fold for the cheap price, though I would have to proceed carefully.

The flop came Q-9-x with one heart. I checked and he thought a few seconds then checked behind. The turn was a 7. Now with my open-ended draw I didn't mind making a move at the pot, but the stack sizes were such that a bet out would probably have no fold equity if he had anything decent, and an all-in would be an absurd overbet. So I decided to check-raise all-in. However, he only bet 1800. This meant a check-raise all-in would still be a large overbet, but now I was getting great odds to spike my straight draw (even more than the 4.5:1 I immediately needed). So I decided to call and lead with a decent-sized bet if I got there on the river.

River was an 8. I checked and he checked and showed two jacks.

Just a strange hand that cost me about 5k in chips, which I didn't like, but it's hard to play it any other way. Sometimes a passive line is the best one-- even though I prefer lines that maximize my chances of winning the pot, that isn't always possible.

The rest of the time I stayed alive by open-pushing mediocre hands from late postion with < 15BB. Sometimes you just have to do this-- I think I pushed a J7o and a Q6o in there. The high antes and reluctance of live players to call off chips makes this work.

(I think I made one error: After doing this a couple of times with those types of hands, I did it again with AQs. I now think I should have made a bet to encourage action, because I'm not folding, and I'm often only getting action from better hands with a shove, whereas a smaller bet may get someone behind to move over the top with something like AJ or AT. I was trying to cover for my other pushes, but I think I failed to capitalize on my hand here.)

One other hand I played I opened AJo in late position and a short-stacked big blind moved in with another AJo and we chopped.

OK, having wrapped that up... onto the final table!

I got there with the chip lead and took out an extremely short stack early when I raised K8dd from late position and he tossed in his last few chips from the small blind with A3o. I got there somehow (I don't really remember).

I picked up a couple smaller pots with preflop reraises. The player two on my right opened to 8k and I made it 22k from the cutoff with 55. He had under 50k, so I was essentially putting him to the decision for his stack. He folded. I won another pot like this, but I don't remember it exactly.

Then I got a huge break.

Blinds 1500/3000/500. UTG, 2nd in chips with ~100k, opens to 9000. I'm a few seats down and look at AKo. With 140k chips, I decide not to reraise because I assume an unknown's raising range UTG, especially at these tournaments, is going to be tight, and I don't want to be in a spot where I'm either a)folding AKo to a 4-bet or b)racing, at best, for a huge pot that could decide the entire tournament. So I just call and decide to proceed with a flop. Everyone folds.

The flop comes AT8 and the raiser leads 30,000. This is such a huge bet that makes no sense to me with any hand. I don't think he's doing it with anything that beats AK on this board. So I move in and he calls immediately and tables A8.

Definitely didn't figure that in his preflop range.

Turn brings a low 4. But the river spikes a beautiful ten that gives me the kicker edge and knocks him out.

Now I have 240,000 and a gigantic lead on the table. Naturally I fritter a large part of it away.

I call a raise from the lady on my right with 98 of hearts and position; She has a lot of chips so I think I can win this pot postflop, either through spiking a big hand or using the leverage and threat of busting her to move her off her hand. The flop comes something like AQ7 and she moves all-in for about 3 times the pot. I fold and make a mental note.

I open ATo in the cutoff and the button shoves. I call getting > 3:1 and he has KK. I turn an ace but the river hits his four-flush.

A couple hands after, the man two on my right (whom I reraised earlier with the fives) opens his standard 8k. I have A7 of clubs and decide to call, which I don't think is the right play in this spot (though it is in certain spots, vs. opponents who more properly adjust their opening ranges as they get shorter and the tournament gets into the late-game). The flop comes 742 with one club. He bets 10k and I obviously move in; he's got kings, though, and I double him up.

So I've given away all the chips I got by nailing the second chip leader. I decide it's time to slow down and grind it back my way-- win small pots, avoid big confrontations without something major, and be first in the pot whenever possible.

Not long after I open K8 of spades in late position. The BB shoves, and I see I'm getting 2.5:1 and maybe slightly more, so I call. He has AJo. The flop brings J8x with two spades; I'm actually a slight favorite. I turn the flush to seal the hand.

The 6th place finisher is an internet player (who actually final tabled the 2005 Pokerstars WCOOP Main Event, if I remember correctly) who had been at my table for hours and had been short-stacking his way through the field in very impressive fashion. I don't remember how he busted, but not longer after we finished the 2000/4000 level and took a break.

We come back from the break five-handed. Blinds are 3000/6000/1000, and everyone except myself and the lady on my right are very short (I don't think any of them had over 10BB-- maybe 12).

First hand I have A2s on the button and open push (to set in the two players with < 10BB). They both fold.

The next hand I open 44 to 17k and win the pot.

The next hand I open 99 to 17k and this time the short stack on the button pushes. I immediately call when it gets back to me; he has A5o and does not improve (well, I think he hit a 5, actually-- so he didn't improve enough). He goes out 5th.

Two hands later I'm in the BB. UTG opens to 15k (with about 40k behind that). Weird-- I don't know why he's not open pushing; it could be fear or it could be a monster. The button who is similarly stacked calls! SB folds and I'm looking at A4o in the BB. It's kind of weak, but it is an ace, and it's four-handed. And on top of that, I'm getting almost 5:1 on an immediate call (9k to play for 43k). So I decide to call and see how the hand develops on the flop.

The flop comes ace-high with two small cards (something like A72). I check. The PFR checks. Now the button moves in. I think a second, and even though my kicker's weak, I still have top pair vs. an opponent who is probably moving in whatever hand he called PF with here, simply because the pot appears to be there for the taking. I call. Raiser folds. He shows 44, and no, the case 4 does not come.

The VERY NEXT HAND. three-handed: the lady on the button opens to 30k (pretty typical for her, she overbet both pre- and post-flop.) I fold my 72o and the BB moves in for 10k more. She has AKhh and he has AQo. The flop comes with a queen and two hearts, and the hearts get there. So now we're looking at heads up.

Stacks are approximately my 305k to her 190k.

She asks if I want to talk a deal. I say "let's play it out for a bit first". I feel very confident in my advantage in tournaments heads-up.

I decide to play it a little slow and feel her out first. And a few hands in, I get the indicator she isn't slowing down: I complete the button, she raises 30k more and I fold. I complete the button, she checks and moves in (yes, an open push) on the flop.

OK. So she won't let me chip away. Now my strategy is "find a hand and go to war with it".

Fortunately, it isn't two minutes later I find two queens on the button. I make it 18k to go and she calls. The flop comes 998 and she moves all-in.

I study for a second, basically to decide one thing: "Would she ever do that with a 9 in her hand?"

No f'ing way. (If I'd stopped to think, I would have decided that her most likely hands here are JT or 8x, which means she has 2, 4, or 5 outs.) But what's most important is this: She doesn't have a 9, so I have the nuts.

I call.

She shows A8.

Turn and river brick out. And I win the event. And for the second time in six months, I miss the group dinner at Rodizio the night before the main event because I was busy winning that day's tournament.

Final note: From the moment we returned from the break five-handed to the moment I won the tournament took about twenty minutes. It's rare to see them fall so fast. (By comparison, the heads-up portion of the UltimateBet 200k took over an hour and a half-- and that was online!)

Key hands from the Turning Stone $500

The tournament started with something like ~190 runners. We all received 3000 chips; blinds start at 25/50 and go up every 30 minutes. I like Turning Stone's structure; it moves relatively slowly, and stacks, while not very deep, are deep enough for a player like me to exploit my edges. The antes are pretty significant later on, too. They also pay a decent percentage to first, somewhere around 30% I think, which I like. All in all, their tournament series can have a lot of positive expectation for a good player.

So I try to go up there every time they have one.

I missed the preliminary events on this week's schedule, but I was there in time for the last two events, a $500+40 and a $1000+60. (The $1000 has 5000 chips and 60-minute levels).

My table was mostly the older regulars, with two or three younger kids who played online there as well. One in particular, Clayton, I have played and discussed poker with plenty enough in the past that I anticipated some aggression and creativity from him. I would have to prepare and adjust accordingly.

Nothing major really happened in the early going. I missed a chance to get more chips out of a player when I opened two tens in early position and he called next to act; I checked the eight-high flop intending to check-raise, but he checked through; I checked a Q on the river hoping to pick off a bluff, but he checked behind and showed two nines. Yikes.

I gave up a small pot when a middle-aged man who had been playing a lot of pots opened to 125, and next to act called; I thought I would pick up the pot the vast majority of the time so I raised to 525. All folded to the opener who raised all in. I mucked my 52s.

Then I doubled someone up. I opened KJo in the 3rd seat to 200 at 50/75. Folded to the button, who had been loose limping and calling raises, and he called 200, which was about 1/6 of his stack. This would set off alarm bells to me in some players, but he had been so loose so far that I didn't take this to mean anything special. The flop came jack-high; I bet, called his all-in, and lost to AA.

(Note: opening KJo in third position certainly isn't always standard, but at a table of players who were playing this passively, I thought I could play it profitably-- yes, sometimes I get paid by worse hands. What happened was a disaster, but not unrecoverable.)

Not long after I won the first of many races: Blinds were, I think, 50-100; the loose player from earlier opened to 300, and I looked at A7o in the small blind, which wasn't much, but with 1500 chips and some folding equity, I thought it was a hand worth taking a shot at the pot with-- and he might even call me with worse. He thought for a while and called with 66. I got a JT8 flop, and a T turn, and with so many outs for the win, I couldn't miss-- A river to double me up.

Now I had some chips to play with, again, but I was nowhere near a big stack. I floated along for a couple of levels, and then at 100/200, with a nearly starting stack, I made another pretty loose play-- I opened K8s UTG to 525 or so. Clayton called in late position, and we went to the flop.

Ding. J88 two hearts.

Now, my concern is getting him to put his whole stack in the middle. He's got more chips than me, enough to where he probably makes a move with any part of the board if he thinks he can make me fold. I have about 2500 left in my stack and the pot is 1150 or so. If I bet too much, he'll know I'm tied to the pot and he might not make a move with some of his draws or what have you. If I check, he may put me all in, but he may make a tester bet that he can fold to a check-raise. I think my best course of action is to lead small and hope he raises. I bet out 600 and he moves me all in; I call; he shows AJ; I double up.

(PF is extremely loose, but I was at a stack size where I thought I could still dump it if the flop didn't nail me, and where I'd take more chances with marginal hands and situations. I happened to get a perfect one, which really helps on the road to tournament victory.

The antes started the next level, and I got through the 100/200/25 without major incident. The next level was 150/300/50; one of my favorite levels at the Turning Stone tournaments because the ante is so high compared to the blinds, and most people adjust improperly. Anyway, with about 6500 chips, this hand happened: Clayton was UTG and opened to 750. It folded to me and I looked at two tens. Now, against a lot of UTG raisers, I'll flat call, because 3-betting means I usually narrow their range to hands that crush me if they're willing to 4-bet. Plus, they probably won't play at me much if the flop misses them. That's most people in this tournament; that's not Clayton. Clayton's range here is wide enough that I have to raise the tens to get value out of my hand and lower the chances of an incorrect decision later. It's too easy for me to fold the best hand on certain flops, and I'd just as soon take down a pot that would add a solid 25% to my stack. So I reach for raising chips. I initially start to make it 2000 more, but then I go back to count Clayton's stack and I realize he only has 4000 or so behind. In this case, I may as well move all in. So I restack my chips and push them forward.

Everyone folds to him and he thinks for several minutes. I know he has a hand that's really borderline here-- he would have called already with JJ+ or AK; he might think about AQ but I'm not sure what he'd do with it. This led me to believe he was thinking about 88 or 99, and if this was the case, I wanted a call. He did finally call, but he turned over KQs, not the hand I wanted to see. Fortunately, my 52-48 edge held when the board bricked out.

I have around 11,000 chips after busting Clayton. Soon our table breaks.

I float along for an orbit or two at the new table until one of the biggest pots of the tournament takes place. 200/400/50 level. UTG who's been playing pretty tightly on the short stacks moves in for 5k. Next to act I look at two black queens. This is a no-brainer; I move in my 10k stack. The next guy to act has 16k and goes into the tank. He's obviously got a big hand; since he hasn't called it must be JJ or AK or thereabouts. I hope he calls JJ and folds AK. He finally says "I call". Everyone else folds and the BB shows ATs as he folds.

UTG turns over JJ and the 3 seat shows AKs.

The queens hold up and I launch to 28k.

From there...

A looooong stretch of nothing.

This was the point where I would have to be patient. I went card-dead and just waited for spots to move at pots, occasionally picking up one preflop. But still, I won no major pots, and dwindled all the way down to 16k-- all the way into the 1000-2000 level (!)

So with 8 big blinds and a high ante (300), I would have to make a move soon.

The guy two on my right, a young, good player who had been working a short stack for several hours, moved in preflop UTG. It folded to me and I looked at ATs. He'd just taken down a pot a couple hands ago to make it through this orbit and I knew he wouldn't be moving here without a hand. I reluctantly mucked.

Next hand, UTG moves all-in. I look at 77. He has 24k or so, which means that while he's better off than me, he is in no way waiting for a monster here. Even if he's moving a lot of overcards, he may be moving a lot of underpairs, or hands like A5s. It's been a while since I've seen a hand and I think this is as good as spot as any.

After all fold he turns over AcQc. I show 7h7s. The flop is T52 all spades. The turn is a jack. The river is a king... of spades. I stare in defeat then count again: flush! I scoop the pot and climb to 35k or so.

The very next hand I pick up 77 again. I make it 5k to go, and he moves in from the BB with A9o. My hand holds. I'm somewhere over 40k now.

Now, something interesting happens. UTG raises to 6k and a short stack two off the button flat calls, leaving 13k behind. In my experience this is nearly always a monster. Even if it isn't, people hadn't been raising light UTG all tournament (besides me, obviously). So when it folds to me in the BB and I put these two together, I dump my ace-jack offsuit.

Now, UTG moves all in on a 542 flop and the short stack folds. Maybe it wasn't a monster after all.

The VERY NEXT HAND the short stack moves in for 13k. Next to act, a middle aged man who's been fairly tight/solid flat calls. It folds to me in the small blind and I look at 88. Now, he has about 20k behind, which isn't much, but there's always a chance he folds anyway. And I get the feeling I really have the best hand here. So I move in. He calls with AKo (the short stack has AJs). I flop 853 and scoop the whole pot. I'm over 100k now.

I should mention that those two knockouts dropped us to 12, and we are well within the money. The tournament was originally scheduled to pay out 15, but once it got to 20, people started discussing a deal to take some of the money from the top two spots and pay out buyins from 20-16. Ordinarily I reject deals like this, but since I had 10 big blinds I didn't think it really affected me much. Sure, spread the wealth. Whatever. If I had the chip lead I would say "no" and raise everyone's blind repeatedly, but I don't.

The very next hand I open to 5000 with QT on the button. The SB, second in chips at the table, calls. The flop is J9x and he leads for 6000. I move in and he folds claiming KJ, which is the whole point: He can't really profitably call there because I can easily have AJ or better, or a situation where he's not a very big favorite. So he folds. Now I suddenly have 128k. I get to the final table not long afterward with 140k.

OK, next time, I'll bring up some hands from the final table. I suppose I had some interesting decisions, but for the most part, I just stayed aggressive at picking up small pots when I had the means to do so, and I was patient and waited for a big hand before playing a big pot.

Greetings Readers

Hi.

While I assume you at least know something about who I am if you're here, I can't be sure. So let me tell you a little bit:

My name is Nath Pizzolatto. I've been playing tournament poker seriously for about two years now, and supporting myself exclusively from it for about 20 months. I made my first deposit online of $300 in April 2005, and won my first tournament in early August-- an $11 on UltimateBet for about $900. I won a $22 6-max tournament the next week, and suddenly I had a bankroll of nearly $2000, more money than I'd ever had at any time in my life.

I never looked back. My tournament career peaked at last year's WSOP with a second place finish in the $2500 6-max event for over $238,000. Since then, however, it's been a lot of struggling to maintain balance and not let the money make me lazy and complacent, or get me to jump into games I'm not ready for. (I've done a lot of both, and it shows.)

Flash forward to now. I'd taken a month or so off from poker while I did some traveling and visting friends, and the vacation was just what I needed, after a harsh downswing that cost me somewhere in the mid-5 figures and a great deal of the confidence I had in my game. I thought I was ready to come back and go at it, but my first day resulted in a losing session across the board at tournaments and cash games.

This led to some frustration on my part, but it also got me tons of worthwhile advice about my mental makeup and approach to the game (some of which I'll talk about in a later post).

The advice paid off almost immediately: I had two nice scores over the weekend, winning the $500 event at Turning Stone's East Coast Poker Championships, and then taking down UltimateBet's big Sunday tournament, the $200 buyin $200,000 guaranteed. The total prize money for these two was over $70,000-- my share of which is more than enough to reinvigorate my bankroll from its latest swings and provide me with a nice cushion as I prepare for Vegas. (I'll write up a report of the key hands from each next.)

My life isn't like many of the online grinders. I'm almost 26; many of them are under 21. I have a vast array of outside interests, and balancing them all can be difficult. I'll share some of them and my methods for balancing them with you as we go along.

In the next month or so, I'll be playing a lot of tournaments online while I get ready for the World Series of Poker. I'm spending June and July in Vegas, hoping to snag that bracelet that eluded me last year (as well as a lot of money). Since I'm returning to school next year (to finish an undergraduate degree I dropped out from some three and a half years ago), these next few months will be my last as a full-time tournament player for a while. This is a big reason I've taken on a backer; while I have enough money to reasonably play all the tournaments I want to play, the risk of ruin, especially with the WSOP coming up, is too high, and I'd rather ensure I had money saved for my trip back to school.

So that's my story. I'll continue to tell parts of it as I go along, and hopefully you'll enjoy the ride with me.

nath Bio/myhome

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