Tag Archives: tournament

How I became a superhero

30 May
Me at the UKIPT with my superhero costume: the PokerStars Live at the Hippodrome badge. Pic by Mickey May

Me at the UKIPT, wearing my new superhero costume: the PokerStars Live at the Hippodrome badge. Pic by Mickey May

Yesterday I became a superhero. Yes, with a superhero costume and a superpower and everything.

Let me explain how.

They say poker is all about probabilities and odds, and they are right, it is; but only up to a point. Live poker at least is more about masks and secret identities. In real life you might be a banker or a lawyer, a gangster or a millionaire, a cab driver or a student; but at the poker table you are whoever you choose to represent yourself as. It’s your job as a live player to see behind your opponents’ masks: to decide this person’s raise means AQ or better; that person’s raise includes low-to-medium pairs; that person’s includes any suited cards. The wider your own range, and the harder it is to read, the more formidable you are as a player.

That’s why nicknames in poker are so common: they are your opponents’ way of categorising what sort of a superhero (or super-villain) you are. I’ve had several given to me. Devilfish himself named me “No-Tells Wells” many years back. Since then I have been called the Professor, the Dom-inator, the Silent Assassin and Paul Smith (because of my sharp jackets), all facets of my different playing styles, my own inner superhero team of the poker felt.

And yesterday I was finally given an actual superhero costume to wear: the black, white and red arm-badge of a sponsored player for PokerStars LIVE at the Hippodrome Casino, with a buy-in to the £275 two-day UKIPT tournament. It’s in that tournament that I discovered my superpower:

I can dodge bullets.

I had several unlucky hands early on that took me down from a 20k starting stack to just 4k, before I built it back up. Any one of them might have knocked out another player. Here’s how to survive in order to fight a better spot when the hand turns against you:

I flop a flush! But I don’t blow my stack.

I call a raise to 300 (BB is 100) with 6-8 of clubs. The blinds are tiny, I can afford a speculative hand I could chip up with. Baseball cap makes it 800, initial raiser calls with his pocket pair or high cards, I call too.

And the flop is all clubs, up to the 9.

Even better, baseball cap leads out 2k with his probable pocket over-pair. Initial raiser calls, either with a lower pocket pair, or a high club. I don’t want to slow-play and let one catch up with a high club if another club comes; so I play safe by raising to 6k, expecting folds. Baseball cap folds, the other guy calls. Hm. Strange. A high club, then?

The turn is a second 9. And the guy shoves all-in. Oh sh**. In a previous hand that was checked to the river, he’d been open-ended on the turn and didn’t raise. There is no way he is shoving all-in without the nuts. 100% he has a house. I don’t even dwell: I insta-fold, showing my flush. He shows pocket 2s for a set on the flop and a house on the turn.

7k down the drain already, but I could easily have been knocked out. Dodged a bullet there.

Finally a real hand! AK suited.

The flop is no help, sadly – 78Q – but there’s hardly any betting till the river so I stay in. Brilliant! The river brings an Ace: baseball cap shakes his head at it sadly.

My spider-senses tingle. He’s surely too experienced a player to let negative emotion show. Now I’m worried. The turn was a 4: could he have 56 for a straight? If I check, and he bets, I’ll feel I have to call even a pot-sized bet (now over 3k). Whereas if he checks, and really does have a lower pair as he’s pretending, I’ve lost money.

My best option therefore is to bet, but really small. I put in 1.5, less than half the pot. He sighs and shakes his head again. Then pushes in 7k. Ha! His blatant Hollywooding just made it easier for me. I fold, showing my AK to induce him to show in return, which he does: he did have a straight. Dodged another bullet there.

Pocket 10s

An easy bullet to dodge. Pocket 10s, A on flop, he bets, I fold. He shows the Ace, too.

Pocket 9s

A tricky one. I get pocket 9s. Despite winning or stealing a few small pots, including by repping a flush I don’t have when a fourth club comes, I’m down to 7k by this stage. There’s a raise to 600, but I’m in too early a position to go all-in, so I call to set-mine. Tight pro in glasses raises to 2k. Damn. That’s bad. AK perhaps, more probably a high pair. Initial raiser calls, though, so now I stand to triple up if I hit. It’s a big dent in my stack, but 1.4k to have an eighth chance of winning up to 21k is a good bet. I call.

The flop is as good as it could be, short of giving me a 9: 568, so I have an overpair and a gutshot. BUT glasses leads out 3k. I am certain now he has a high overpair, not AK. Even though the other guy calls, and I’m down to just 5k, I’m so sure of my read I fold. Glasses bets the turn of a 3, and the river of a 5, at which the other guy bows out, saying: “You got Kings?”

This makes him show: he does indeed have pocket Kings. Dodged another bullet there.

Double up!

Down to 5k. I’ve seen many players shove in desperation in those situations, but I’m still 20x BB. Doubling up is easy, I just need the right hand. I want a cigarette, but can’t afford to miss a single hand now, so I stay put. Good thing, too: I get pocket Qs. It’s an insta-all-in, hoping for one caller – which I get from BB with pocket 8s. Brilliant. I double up.

All-in

On this hand I do finally go all-in, inducing someone to fold the better hand:

I have AJ of spades in the BB. Three limps; I’m sure I have the highest hand, so I raise big, 1.5k on BB 300; big enough that I can rep an overpair if need be. One caller – it’s the guy who had a house on me before, the guy I folded a made flush to. That’s important for what follows:

The flop comes 9 high, with two spades. I don’t have to think too hard about my course of action. I’ve been cautious when need be: now is not the time for caution. I can’t check and call, or I may leak chips to the river. I can’t check-raise, as if I let him bet he’ll be committed to call at my stack size. I have to shove all-in to gain fold equity.

But first, I lay the groundwork for this particular superhero identity: the identity of a guy with a big over-pair. I look at him. He looks back at me quizzically. I can tell he’s got a little something – he’s either hit a pair on the board, or has a pocket pair. “Just trying to work out if you’ve hit a set again,” I say to him, as I look into his eyes. This reminds him that I’m the guy who was tight enough to lay down a flush. It also suggests that I have an overpair to the board.

Now I nod as though satisfied, and shove all-in. I’m pretty sure he’ll now fold any pair. And if he finds the balls to call, I still have my one-third chance of doubling up with the nut flush. He dwells, then folds, showing the 9 for top pair on the board. “Good fold,” I say, without showing. Dodged another bullet there, and now I’m back to a playable 12k.

Back in the game

I gradually build it back to 35k – average stack now it’s late in the day; not bad when I was down to 4k. Along the way, there’s a graphic reminder of what happens when you don’t even try to dodge bullets. A short-stack somehow ends up all-in with pocket deuces against a guy with AQ on a Q-high flop. As he leaves the table, he shrugs and says rhetorically, “What can you do?”

I have an answer for that. DON’T GO ALL-IN WITH DEUCES, YOU INCREDIBLE IDIOT. Another short-stack check-raises all-in when I hit my top pair on the flop. I have to put him on a flush draw, not two pair, or he’d have bet first, so I call. He had bottom pair, and goes out. Again, he just lost the will the find the right spot to fight.

A tight spot with AK

I have a strange hand with AK. I raise in the SB, and am called by the BB, a woman who’s recently been moved to my left. Flop is A-6-10, with two spades. Couldn’t be better. I bet 3k, and she shoves all-in for 11k. That’s bad. Very bad. Any other player I could put on a flush draw, or AJ or AQ. But I remember her from the last tournament. I think she’s stronger than that.

I dwell for ages. This is my one hand written up on the PokerStars blog, and it must seem strange that I dwelt so long after flopping an Ace with AK: surely an insta-call, when 8k stands to win me twice that, and it doesn’t even cripple my stack. But I know her enough to put her on A10 for two pair… maybe even a set. Finally, I make the call, and I’m relieved rather than disappointed when she has AK as well for a chop.

Going out fighting

In the end, I do go out after losing some key hands. It’s not because I stop being able to dodge bullets through my reads, but because I still lack the best super-power of all: the ability to hit.

For instance, I call an all-in button shove with A7 on the BB, knowing he has air: he has J5 – but somehow still gets a straight. Later I re-raise to 6k in late position with pocket 8s, but glasses re-re-raises to 16k: definitely a bigger pair, so I fold. I end up short-stacked again, and have to button-shove with K7 suited; called by pocket 8s; I don’t hit.

So I go out, nearly at the end of the day, in 45th place out of 119 runners. Disappointing, but not a bad result when at one stage I was down to just 4k within the first two hours. And I outlast another PokerStars LIVE at the Hippodrome Casino pro at my table, who weirdly sat with his starting stack of 20k intact, not playing a single hand for two hours, then suddenly shoved all-in against a 1k raise. I say to myself, no one will possibly call him with anything less than Kings here, when this is the first hand he’s played since sitting down, and so it proves: the initial raiser calls him with Aces, he mournfully shows AK, and he’s out.

As a poker superhero, I’d rather die fighting.

I then take myself off upstairs to the PokerStars LIVE balcony, and positively crush the cash table until 3am.

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British Poker Awards: Victoria Coren Mitchell wins, while I impress Jake Cody

24 Feb
Vicky_Coren

Victoria Coren at her second EPT win which gave her Performance of the Year at the British Poker Awards

After the Oscars, on Sunday night, came the British Poker Awards, on the very next night, held in London’s Hippodrome Casino. Both, of course, are a celebration of hard work, craftsmanship, skill, perseverance and, above all, convincing acting. But whereas at the Oscars they have to strike up the band to close down the tearful acceptance speeches – and even then, this year director Pawel Pawlikowski famously continued regardless – poker players are not renowned for their public wit and native charisma.

“Just a little hint,” host Michael Caselli, the Editor-in-Chief of Bluff Europe Magazine, was reduced to saying in frustration, “if you’re nominated you might just want to think of preparing a little something to say.”

There was no such problem with TV/ radio presenter, writer and poker pro Victoria Coren Mitchell, however, which made it especially welcome that she walked home with no less than three awards. “I feel it’s a bit unfair because I have four different jobs and so I have more followers,” she said of her Social Media award and quarter-of-a-million-strong Twitter account. Caselli told her that the other nominees thought she was a worthy winner. “The other nominees are terrible, so it’s not surprising,” said Vicky, with what we trust was mean-the-opposite British banter. You don’t get that at the Oscars.

Victoria Coren Mitchell, pictured with Bluff Editor-in-Chief and host Michael Caselli, picks up Performance of the Year

Victoria Coren Mitchell, pictured with host Michael Caselli, picks up Performance of the Year

Victoria Coren Mitchell also won Poker Personality of the Year: “In 15 years I have never won a personality award,” she commented drily, “which given how much I talk means people have gone, ‘I have experienced your personality, and that’s a no.’”

And finally Vicky won Performance of the Year for winning the EPT Sanremo. In 2006 she had become the first woman to win the EPT main event; last year she became the first person to win it twice. “I played that tour like I do every other,” she said, “hoping I don’t get knocked out in the first 15 minutes like at EPT Coventry! I think I was the shortest stack from 24 players down to three. I never, ever, expect to do well. My goals in poker have been the same for 20 years: I hope to turn a nice profit, while vaguely being a nice person and not screwing people over too much.”

It’s as good a life philosophy as any, and got the biggest cheer of the night. I whooped louder than anyone: it was Victoria Coren Mitchell who introduced me to Texas Hold ‘Em, over ten years ago, when fellow journo Jon Ronson took me to her home game. I’ve been hooked ever since. You can read my interview with Victoria Coren Mitchell here.

Jake Cody, winner of Best Blogger

Jake Cody, winner of Best Blogger

But the night was far from over. There was still a 50-player freeroll, with top pros providing a bounty. Jake Cody, a man with over $4 million in tournament winnings to his name (and who won Best Blogger), was drawn on my table, and did the coolest thing I have ever seen a bounty celeb do. In two hours he played just two hands, both all-in. The first time I nearly called with A6 suited, but as they couldn’t tell me what the bounty actually was (“a goodie bag”) I couldn’t work out if it was a good play or not. On his next all-in, an hour later, I had pocket 10s with about three times his stack size, and called.

Jake turned over mathematically the very worst starting hand in poker: seven-deuce! That’s why he was taking his time. I can imagine him folding Aces, Kings, AK, going “Nope, too good, it’s unfair to knock some poor player out. I’ll wait for a truly awesomely terrible hand so they can claim the bounty.” My pocket 10s had him crushed, but Cody’s not the pro for nothing: he somehow got a 7 on the flop, followed by a 2 on the turn for two pair.

I still had a decent stack, however, big enough to make a cool play. I have 89 in the small blind. It’s limped round to me on the button, so I call. Four players in the hand, including one who is all-in for just under the 2k big blind. The flop is 4,10,J, with two hearts. I have an open-ended straight draw, so I call a 4k raise on the flop, as does the big blind. The turn is a scare card: the Ace of hearts. It might give someone a pair of Aces, or a heart flush. We all check. The river is no help. It’s checked to me again, so without hesitation I push my remaining stack into the centre: just 6k. The total pot is 20k, 12k of which is the side-pot — more than enough to make it worth stealing when I know the other two are weak.

The other two players dwell, and finally fold. The all-in turns over an Ace regretfully, saying, “I’m sure you have this crushed.” I smile and turn over my 8 high. “I only wanted to steal the side-pot,” I say, and rake in my 6k plus 12k.

“That’s a great move,” laughs Jake Cody. “Because of the all-in player and the size of the pot, the other players have to think it can never be a bluff. I’ll remember that one.”

Liv Boeree, proving leather trousers with zips are so a good look, picks up International Player for Daniel Negreanu

Liv Boeree, proving leather trousers with zips are so a good look, picks up International Player for Daniel Negreanu

And though I eventually bust out in 14th place with AK vs QJ (amazingly, not to former Full Tilt pro Sin Melin, who always seems to knock me out of these things), I am happy. I’ve played in tournaments against some of the world’s greatest poker pros – Gus Hansen, Liv Boeree, “Jesus” Ferguson, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Antonio Esfandiari – but I’ve never before impressed one.

Just one final word: during the night I got chatting to loads of great people, including the CCO of Ranking Hero, a new site that launched here in November as a social media hub for poker players, and the tournament director of the Redtooth pub poker league, which every May takes 100 amateur players to Vegas for the World Series. Both are to be commended for bringing the fun back to poker; check them out.

For the full list of British Poker Awards winners, see Bluff Europe Magazine.

The Hippodrome poker classic: 5 tips on reaching the final table with terrible hands

17 Feb
Hippodrome classic final table

The final table at the PokerStars/Hippodrome Winter Classic tournament.

On Sunday I came seventh in the PokerStars Live at the Hippodrome Winter Classic tournament for £1,600. Not as good as last year’s, in which I came third for £5,250, but I’m prouder of this result, because I really made the best of some marginal hands.

It was a two-day tournament, so I should by rights have been dealt every possible starting hand: Aces at least once (they should come every eight hours or so), AK three times. But no – my best pocket pair was Kings, just once, and the next best tens, just once. My highest Ace was AQ, just once.

So how did I go deep? This is the kind of creative play I’ve learned from playing cash at the PokerStars Live Lounge at the Hippodrome – I’m sharing in the hope that poker-playing readers will pick up some strategy tips:

  1. Sniffing out a bluff

I have 78 of clubs. The blinds are still low (500 on a starting stack of 25k), so I can afford to call a 1.5k raise. We’re four-handed when a scare flop comes 99Q with two spades and a diamond. Nothing there for me. It’s checked round. The turn is an 8, bringing a second diamond, and a pair for me. We all check to the initial button raiser, who bets 5k. The others fold, and I call with my bottom pair.

This is where it gets interesting. When I check the river of a 5 of diamonds, hoping I’ll be ahead on the showdown with my humble pair but knowing he may well have a pair of Queens, a higher pocket pair or even slow-played trips, the raiser makes it 12.5k.

Some people would fold automatically, but instead I think it through. The 5 of diamonds is actually a key card here, because it completes a backdoor flush and a 5-9 straight: both are hands I might have been drawing to when I called the turn. If he has a pair, or even if he was slow-playing trip 9s, there’s no way he’d value-bet that river. Why bet when he’s only getting called by a bigger hand? So he either has a monster – a house or at minimum a backdoor flush – or else he’s bluffing.

That’s what they call a “polarised” range. From listening to the guy talking to his neighbour, I know he’s a pro; therefore he is capable of bluffing for pretty nearly his whole stack. And he doesn’t “feel” strong.

If I call and get it wrong, I’m down to 7k – crippled. But if I get it right, I’ve nearly doubled up. I make the call. He had KJ for a failed gutshot, and the whole table gasps when I show just a pair of 8s.

Your take-home: if they are a pro player and you put them on a failed draw, you can call a river bet with a small pair. I’ve even done so with Queen high.

  1. Turning a draw into a bluff

I make one bluff early on when I float a tiny flop bet with air and a third suited card comes on the turn. I’ve been playing tight, so when I bet it, both players fold. Easy stuff. But there’s a more interesting bluff, as it relies strongly on a read:

I have Q8 of clubs in the small blind. There’s one limp, I call, and the big blind checks. The flop comes  Ace high, with two clubs for a flush draw. So of course I bet. The big blind calls.

The turn is a second Ace. I bet again. The big blind calls again. Weird. What’s he calling with? The flush draw maybe? In that case, mine is bigger. Has he hit a small pair? What gives me strength is that I know for sure he hasn’t got an Ace. And I know this, even though he has only just sat down at the table, simply because he has a card protector in front of him that says “Online Turbo Tournament Champion”. There is no way in hell that a guy like that with any kind of Ace in the big blind would not have raised pre-flop.

Yet another Ace comes on the river. Three Aces on the board! Any kind of pair now has made a house. Any Ace has now got quads. I only have Q high. I may even be ahead, though I still need to push him off a possible small pair. I bet convincingly small, less than half the pot. He folds, and everyone congratulates me on my “quad Aces”.  The big blind later admitted he was calling with 8 high, intending to bluff me later, but you can’t bluff a man who so obviously “has” quads!

Your take-home: Conversely, you can easily turn your own failed draw into a bluff, if you have a read that your opponent is weak.

  1. Turning bad position into good position

It’s day two of the tournament, and there’s a loose big-stack raising so often that he can’t have a hand each time. That kind of person you have to re-raise, never call. So when he raises my blind to 6.5k and I have AJ, I re-raise to 15k. He calls. Impulsively, I check in the dark. Why? Because he has position over me, and he’s an aggressive player. If I have to make a continuation bet on the flop, he can re-raise if he hits, or fold or float or bluff if he doesn’t, and I won’t know where I am. I want to keep the initiative, and keep him confused. It works. He frowns, baffled and off-balance.

The flop comes King high, all clubs, and he… checks. For all he knows, I have a flush, or AK; even an aggressive player would struggle to bluff that flop in the dark. Blissfully, the turn is a fourth club. I have none of this flop, but it doesn’t matter. Even with no information, I know he is less than 50% to hold a club in his two hole cards (less than 50%, because there are only 9 clubs left out of 46 unknown cards). But I do have information: he checked the all-club flop. Whereas I checked in the dark, so he learned nothing. So I am safe to bet here as though I have a club, and see him fold. That’s just what happens.

Your take-home: If there are four suited cards on the board, make a small river bet. Unless you are known as an aggressive, bluffing player, a bet of half or even a third of the pot gives you a greater than 50% chance of forcing a fold.

  1. Value-betting and bluffing at the same time

I have KJ unsuited in early position. Not a wonderful tournament hand in early position when the blinds are dangerously high, but one of the best I’ve seen all day, so I raise, and get two callers. The flop comes K high. Good. But when I bet, I get one call. There is a flush draw out there, but it doesn’t “feel” like he has one, it “feels” like he has a King. But what’s his kicker? It ought to be at least KJ, maybe KQ, to call a tight player raising from early position. The turn is a second 3. I check, he bets. I could give up now, but hell, I have top pair with a decent kicker. But I won’t raise, because he’s likely only folding with a worse kicker than mine. So I call. See what happens on the river.

The river is an Ace. Brilliant. If I’m right that he has a King, I can be sure he hasn’t got an Ace. This guy is wearing a baseball cap; he would definitely have re-raised AK pre-flop. So I instantly grasp that I can bet the Ace safely. And the fascinating thing about this bet is that it is at the same time a bluff and a value bet.

It’s a bluff because if he has KQ, I’m losing, and with KJ we’re chopping, but I have a good chance of pushing him off the hand by representing the Ace. It will make total sense to him that I should have one:  I raised pre-flop, made a continuation bet on the flop, check-called the turn when he showed strength, and then raised the river when the Ace came. So “of course” I spiked an Ace.

But it’s also a value bet, because if he has K10, or K9, which is possible for a guy wearing a baseball cap especially if they were suited, and he does somehow summon up the courage for a hero call, then I make extra money. He dwells ages, so I know he had some kind of King, before folding, cursing the river.

Your take-home: Always be prepared to change your tactics to adjust to new cards on each street.

  1. When all else fails, you do need a little luck!

My second best hand in the whole tournament is AQ, shortly after the bubble bursts. So when I finally get it, you’re damn right I re-raise it. Following a bet of 10k and one call, I make it 25k. They both call. The flop comes Queen high, with a 5 and a 4, no flush draw. Hallelujah! I bet 45k, and get one fold, and one very slow call from the shorter stack. He’s either very strong, with trips, and slow-playing it – a real possibility, though at least I can rule out two pairs – or he has a weaker Queen. Hard to tell from the betting action, but it no longer matters: he has only 65k left, with 170k already in the pot. I can’t fold.

So I’m jamming the turn whatever comes (it’s a 2), at which he snap-calls. Yep, he has pocket 5s for trips. Even a third Queen won’t help me, as it would give him a house. I’ll still have 100k left from the stack I’ve painstakingly built, but this sucks. And just then… a genuine miracle from the Poker Gods. The river is a 3, giving me a runner-runner straight.

I like to think this is karmic payback for my bad starting hands this weekend, or for all the times my Aces have been cracked by Kings or Queens in tournaments past. But really, it’s just the glorious, infuriating, crazy, random thing about poker. You can concentrate hard and make great reads and play your best game, but you’ll usually need some shot of dumb good luck, somewhere along the line, to reach the final table. It’s why we love poker and get furious with poker but keep coming back to it: it’s unpredictable and ever-changeable, with no two hands the same.

And what did I do to celebrate my eventual £1,600 final-table win, you might ask?

Well duh. I went straight back up to the PokerStars Live Lounge balcony to play for cash.

Victoria Coren’s historic double EPT win, and why gender still matters in poker

21 Apr

 

Victoria Coren

Victoria Coren Mitchell, with the hand that won her second EPT

So Vicky Coren (or rather Victoria Coren Mitchell, as she now is), won the European Poker Tour last night, taking home nearly £400,000. Absolutely bloody brilliant. In 2006 Coren became the first woman to win the EPT. Now she’s made history on gender-neutral terms as the first person ever to win it twice.

Gender shouldn’t matter in poker, but it still does. Play any tournament, and you’ll see an average of one woman for every table of 10. Go to a cash game in a casino outside Vegas, and you may find fewer still.

Why? Coren herself describes in her excellent memoir For Richer, For Poorer the initial fear at stepping into the all-male preserve of the Victoria Casino: “My second trip is by myself… I peep through the partition wall. There, just visible through the volcanic cloud of smoke, is the same cliquey gaggle of old men. A couple of them peer suspiciously at me. My stomach clenches with fear. I go back down the stairs, find my car, and go home.”

The smoke may have lifted, and the old men have mostly been replaced by young bucks in T-shirts and shades, but poker rooms can still be an intimidating environment for women. They are assumed to be conservative players, so more aggressive players will often re-raise them with marginal hands in the expectation of forcing a fold. The more attractive female players will get hit on mercilessly, and it’s not uncommon to hear jokes about “nice pairs” and “straddling” as soon as they step away from the table. Poker tournaments and the lesser websites (not PokerStars or Full Tilt, thankfully) are still often shamelessly promoted with bikini-clad dolly birds, as though we hadn’t left the ‘70s.

More insidiously, I have had several negative conversations about Vicky Coren at the poker table. It starts when they ask me how I got into poker. “I was taken to a home game by fellow journo Jon Ronson about ten years ago,” I explain. “I’d never played Texas Hold ‘Em, and was totally out of my depth. But as our host dispensed tips on how I should have played the hand, I realised how fascinating the game really was, how much I had to learn. The host was Vicky Coren.”

Three times this story has been met with derisory comments about Vicky’s skill, the implication being that she’s only famous because she’s a woman. This is strange, because Coren is a very good player. I’ve played against her a few times now, the last time in a media tournament at the Hippodrome Casino, with Vicky on my left and her fellow British PokerStars Pro Liz Boeree on my right. She can bluff when she has to, her reads are good, she is self-critical, and, as she said when I interviewed her for the second time last year, “As to my strategy, the old rules still apply: play aggressively at a passive table and patiently at an aggressive table.”

She is also unfailingly charming to everyone at the table. So why diss her? Everyday sexism is the only answer I can come up with.

So to all the unreconstructed Neanderthals out there, I hope Victoria Coren’s historic EPT double win sends a message: you don’t need to have a penis to play poker; but it can stop you being a dick.

Playing poker at the Hippodrome: Six Things I Learned About Gus Hansen

20 Mar

Image

How often do you get the chance to play against one of the world’s top poker pros – in a humble 60-person, £80 tournament? I know; never. But last night the impossible happened. Thanks to its tie-in with PokerStars and Full Tilt, London’s Hippodrome casino brought Gus Hansen down to play with us mere mortals.

Gus Hansen!! This is how big a deal that is:

Two years ago, for an article in Conde Nast Traveller, I flew to Macau and tracked down the legendary “Big Game”. Here, in the Starworld casino, Chinese billionaires are locked nightly in mortal combat with the best poker players the West can throw at them – the whales against the sharks. The pros that night were John Juanda, Sam Trickett, Tom Dwan and, yes, Gus Hansen.

Gus had “only” about 40 orange chip plaques – each is worth HK$100,000, or about  £10,000, so that’s nearly half a million quid. The businessmen’s plaques, on the other hand, rose in front of them like the Great Wall of China.

From my lowly 1-2 table nearby, I crane my head to see Gus push half his stack into the centre of the table — £200,000 in a single hand! His opponent picks up some chips, seems about to call; reconsiders… and folds. Chalk one up to Gus.

I am hoping to sneak a quick interview with Gus, having played on his table at the World Series of Poker Europe (I outlasted him, too), but the pit boss says simply, “No break.” “I’ll catch him when he goes to the toilet, then,” I say. The pit boss just laughs: “That won’t happen. Sometimes they play for 20 hours straight.”

Even so, I hang around, playing 1-2, watching as much of the game as I can see beyond the protective screens. I pack it in at 8am; they’re still going strong. By this time Gus has tripled up – that’s £800,000 profit in six hours. And now I see why he hasn’t stood up from the table, not even once. At that rate, I calculate that a five-minute break to “spend a penny” would cost him, on average, £10,000.

And now we few, we lucky 60 who have braved no more than a Tube journey to sit at the PokerStars Live Lounge’s fourth-floor balcony tables, have the chance to pit our wits against this Poker Master for a measly £80.

So what is it like to play against a man whose live tournament earnings alone surpass $11million? Here’s Six Things I Learned About Gus Hansen…

1. He’s generous. He’s nice to everyone on the table, trading small talk and jokes. When the waitress hands him some water, he slips her a £5 note. “What’s that for?” she asks. “For you,” says Gus.  She still looks baffled. “A tip,” explains Gus. The waitress grins like a schoolgirl. She’s not used to seeing anything bigger than a £1 chip tossed on to her tray.

2. Then again, he can afford to be. I tell Gus I saw him at the Big Game in Starworld a while back. He grins. “I’m doing gooood in that one,” he says, elongating the ‘o’ for emphasis. “Doing real good.”

3. He knows when to fold ‘em. Early in the tournament, with the big blind still at 100 on a starting stack of 5,000, Gus raises to 350. Fellow Full Tilt pro Sin Menis Melin shoves all-in. She even gets another caller – now Gus has value. He dwells… and folds Ace-King. Dead right. Sin had pocket Aces.

4. And he knows when to hold ‘em. “I’ve just got this weird feeling I’m ahead,” he says, calling an all-in shove of 2,800 by a previously tight player on the button, with the big blind still at 200. The other guy shows J6, more commonly known as “Jack-sh**”. Gus has A8. Good call! Even so, Gus is just 64% to win… which plunges to 13% when the Jack comes on the flop… until Gus catches an Ace on the river. That’s poker.

5. Even Gus Hansen is still learning. “How’s it going?” asks a passing friend. “Pretty good,” says Gus, “I’ve introduced a new element to my game.” “What’s that?” “Folding!” he laughs.

6. But apparently not fast enough! I twice saw Gus make smallish river bets on a dangerous board, presumably to test the water and dampen down any potential bluffs, as well as maybe squeezing out a little value. One board had three sixes showing; Gus had pocket Aces. The second time, I myself called his river bet with just a pair of fives, on a board with four cards to the straight, just because it would have been cool to say that I had caught Gus bluffing. No chance. He’d actually made trips on the flop with pocket sevens. Later in the tournament, however, the new-found love of folding Gus had joked about deserted him: he was knocked out with what he later called a “ridiculous” river bluff.

What a great night. Daniel Taylor was the guy who knocked Gus out: the bounty on the pro’s head was a seat at the PokerStars UKIPT series here on April 11-13. The first prize of £1490 was won by Sarah Berry. And, I console myself after I bust out against Sin’s second pocket Aces of the night, in a very real sense we’re all winners: the Hippodrome has just introduced a leaderboard, with points for every player – eventual grand prize, a PokerStars sponsorship to all weekend multi-day tournaments including the UKIPT.

Tournaments at the Hippodrome’s PokerStars Live Lounge run Sunday-Wednesday; cash games daily. For my guide to playing in Vegas, click here

Las Vegas poker: my guide to the top 12 places, part 2

10 Jun

In honour of the premiere on Wednesday of the poker doc Bet Raise Fold at Palm’s, I’ve compiled my insider’s guide to Vegas’s finest poker rooms. This is part two. Click here for part one

MGM Grand (south-centre Strip): The spacious, elegant 22-table room is situated next to the Centrifuge Bar, good for landing the odd oversauced fish on your table. And now that the vast new Hakkasan restaurant/club has opened at the MGM, you can expect even more action. There’s a good range of games, including a weekly H.O.R.S.E. tournament. Tournaments: daily 11.05pm ($80), 7.05pm (Sun-Thur $80, Fri-Sat $125); Tues 7.15pm H.O.R.S.E. $120.

Mirage (centre Strip): This is one of the first places I ever played in, ten years back, and still a favourite for cash as it’s so easy to make money. There seem to be no pros, just a lot of happy holiday-makers used to friendly games back home who call off big raises in the hope of improving later. Nice atmosphere, though the dealers are infuriatingly lethargic. The tournaments and Sit ‘n’ Gos, however, are underattended and have terrible structures. Tournaments: daily 11am ($60 except Sat $110), 2pm and 10pm ($50).

Orleans (west, near Strip): This sprawling, somewhat down-at-heel casino has the largest poker room off the Strip with 35 tables, as well as the cheapest rake (capped at $3 rather than the usual $5). The players are mostly old-timers and locals, and they offer a wide selection of games and tournaments with an excellent structure given the relatively modest buy-ins. Years ago I came first equal in an Omaha tournament here, despite it being the first time I’d played (I looked up good starting hands on the internet and stuck to that), so the standard is not that hot. For a real adventure, try the H.O.R.S.E. tourney. Tournaments: daily at 12.05pm (Omaha Hi-Lo Mon-Wed $60; NL Hold ‘Em other days $60-80), and 7.05pm (Omaha Hi-Lo Mon $100, Thur $80; NL Hold ‘Em Tue $80, Wed $100, Fri $125, Sat $100; H.O.R.S.E. Sun $100).

Planet Hollywood (centre Strip): The new poker area is a great improvement on the old, which was sandwiched in between noisy slot machines. This is not a place for serious play, but it is a good place to have fun and to make money at cash. You get a lot of Brits here, and more women than in most rooms. The tournaments have a terrible structure and are best avoided. Tournaments: daily $70 at 10am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm.

Rio (west, near Strip): I’m including this as a nod to their hosting the WSOP, but outside that period there is little reason to venture out here, other than the chance to eat steak in the Voodoo Lounge after playing, which (top tip!) gives you free access to their terrific rooftop club. The poker room is small and cramped at just ten tables, the tournament structures are poor, the players random, but the staff are very efficient. Notable for the Mega Beat jackpot, one of the world’s largest, which starts at $200,000. Tournaments: daily $65 at 12noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm.

Venetian (centre Strip): This is the biggest of all Vegas poker rooms at 59 tables, and my favourite for tournaments, due to the size of fields, but less so for cash as it’s noisy, overly bright and you can run into some decent players. Experienced players may enjoy the variety of games on offer, with the currently trendy Open-Faced Chinese on offer as well as Omaha variants. Tournaments: daily at 12noon ($150 Mon-Thur, $200 Fri and Sun, $500 Sat), and at 7pm ($120 daily except $150 Tue and $200 Fri).

Wynn (north-centre Strip): A lovely 26-table room in one of the most relaxed and elegant casinos, this makes most people’s top three, along with the Venetian and the Aria. You get all sorts here, from sharks to money-no-object fish, with good action at mid-levels, and the staff are highly professional. Tournaments: daily at 12pm ($140 Mon-Thur, $200 Fri and Sun with $10,000 guarantee), plus 7pm Thur ($140 with $25 bounties).

For my pre-WSOP interview with Victoria Coren on her life in poker and marriage to comedian David Mitchell, click here.