Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Oh, I play poker sometimes too: A recap of my WCOOP main event

After the big high of my debut fight, I had a chance this weekend to put the wraps on what would have been by far the most epic 9-day stretch of my life by winning the main event of the PokerStars WCOOP and the $1.4+ million that came with that title. Unfortunately, I had to settle for 36th place and a substantially less impressive $29286.

I was surprised by truly how grueling the event was. The 13 hours of play on Day 1 were very mentally taxing and felt more like two days of a live event. The experience was stressful enough that my skin actually broke out the next morning. And my Day 1 wasn't even really filled with difficult decisions. And I only played one table. I'm not really sure as to why it is the case that I find online tournaments so grueling compared to live tournaments. Perhaps it's the rushed 5-minute breaks. Or maybe it's the increased frequency with which one plays big, important pots. In a live tournament you might only play 1-2 really significant, stressful pots in any given hour, but obviously online (even one-tabling) you might play closer to a half-dozen.

It's also, of course, less fun to go deep in a big online tournament than a live one, because of the absence of a support network (putting aside random shouting in the chatbox or on Twitter). There are no dinner breaks with friends or encouragement from the rail. There isn't really even that weird and awkward sense of camaraderie one develops with one's tablemates, those very same people whose dreams you are trying to crush.

In any case, by the end of the long day, I was fairly drained. I did manage to squeeze some of my good practices from training for the fight into the 5-minute breaks. In general, I want to start bringing my healthy lifestyle approach for MMA into the poker world, by using deep breathing, exercise and better eating habits to feel better and less stressed while playing, which should ultimately result in better decision-making. I feel like readers of this blog are going to think I'm becoming this total hippie, so I'll emphasize that it's still far more important to play well and have technical skill (in both poker and in fighting), than it is to do all these other lifestyle things. But these things can significantly improve performance and have negligible cost, so they're certainly worth doing.

The other thing I did that was new for today was turning off all distractions. At the WSOP in 2009 and 2010 I became known among media and players as the guy who was always reading his Kindle at the table, and I almost never play live tournaments without making sure my iPod is full of fresh, new podcasts. In online tournaments I'm even worse, between the easy availability of chat, Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, blogs and just general dicking around on the web. But for an event as big as the WCOOP main, I decided it was worthwhile to embrace the boredom and turn off all of these things. The only things loaded on my computer would be the PokerStars client, PokerTracker and PokerStove, and the only non-poker tools I allowed were iTunes and my cell phone (which I mostly ignored). I don't feel like it helped me that much with information tracking because my mind still wandered a great deal, but where it did protect me was that I didn't make any clear blunders (misreading bet sizes or stack sizes and things of that nature) because I was never distracted by anything other than my own thoughts.

As you might guess, I feel I played pretty well. Since getting back from the WSOP, I've returned to my roots as a cash-game player, and up until the fight I was trying to squeeze in an hour or two of 5/10 NL cash on HeroPoker every day. My results there have been strong but nothing special, but more importantly it's gotten me back to feeling confident playing 50-100 BB NLHE. The tournament landscape is so much different from the mid-stakes cash one, though. I have this theory that a lot of this small 4-bet/5-bet/6-bet stuff that is occurring is not part of optimal strategy but is in fact borne of an unwillingness of many tournament players to play flops. I think people doing this would be better served making more calls and large jams. I will disclaim this by saying I do think that this is a very unpopular opinion in the tournament world and that there are obviously a lot of very talented and successful players who would disagree strongly with that statement.

Going deeper into hand analysis is not really my style; I played a couple of questionable hands that I posted on my Twitter, and I do wish I could take one action back on my final hand. But again, I'm happy with how I played and I feel like even though I've taken a few weeks off to prepare for the fight, that my NL game is as strong as it's ever been. I'll be going to WSOPE in Cannes -- which I've been looking forward to that ever since the 3rd week of training camp -- so this run, while disappointing, at least gives some confidence going forward. Yesterday was, I think, the deepest I've gone in a tournament that paid over $1 million for first. Maybe in a couple weeks I get to join that elusive million-dollar club!


  1. Wow, congrats! It's funny I was obsessed with poker up until last June where I cashed out my roll and traveled. I was a big fan of your blog then. Over the summer I kind of dropped poker and have become obsessed with MMA. I still read lots of poker blogs and today I remembered yours and I see all your blogs leading up to the fight and finally this one. I aspire to do what you've done man. Again, congrats and can`t wait for new entries.

  2. This should`ve been posted on the fight recap entry btw.