Sunday, 15 June 2014

Jeff Kimber on playing in Sin City.

Winning a World Series of Poker bracelet used to be my ultimate goal as a poker player. However, nowadays as a professional, a trip to Vegas should (and will) be purely about making as much money as possible.

While in years gone past I’ve been attracted by the glitz, glamour and glory of winning a piece of jewellery I’d never wear, now it’s all about the money, and spotting the best opportunities to come back with a suitcase full of Benjamins.

I remember being in Season One of the GUKPT, eight years ago now, and sitting with Tour Manager Jonathan Raab as we waited for the final table to be set in Luton.

Play was sooooo slow – we hadn’t lost a player for what seemed like ages. To fill the time we decided to try and write down a list of every Brit to ever have won a WSOP bracelet.

Before we’d made double figures we were struggling – back then, a British bracelet winner was about as common as a Liverpool fan with a Scouse accent.

Since then British poker has enjoyed a prolific time, however. You can’t play a domestic £1k or even a £500 without at least a couple of bracelet winners about – I even played a £50 online satellite the other day and had two bracelet winners (not to mention an EPT winner) just on my starting table!

Three of my mates – Praz Bansi, JP Kelly and Matt Perrins – even have two bracelets each, for goodness sake. There’s no doubt in my mind that, like anything, the more often someone achieves it, the less special it feels. (Although, I must hasten to add that if I’d beaten JC Tran heads-up a couple of years ago then my view might be a bit different!)
More importantly, though: exactly why is it the Brits have had so much success of late?

Looking back to that long evening when Jon Raab and I were left to make our own entertainment, I think a lot of it can be attributed to the standard of domestic poker we now enjoy, all instigated by Raaby and his brainchild, the GUKPT.

Now in its eighth year, the GUKPT gives us players regular, deep-stacked, multi-day tournaments. Just look at some of the winners of those events and what they’ve gone on to achieve – Praz, who won the very first event in Bolton in 2007, Sam Trickett, Julian Thew… the list goes on.

I know for a fact that back in 2007, just as I was launching my professional career, it was a struggle to find a decent tournament to play without getting the passport out some months. These days I can play one every week, and can swap the passport for an Oyster card.

We now have the UKIPT and GPS tours, with similar offerings to the GUKPT, while Dusk Till Dawn and other poker clubs offer regular well-structured deep-stacked tournaments that can’t fail to improve regular players’ skills.

However, some foreign players just don’t have that luxury, and when they all come together in Vegas, it shows.

British players enjoy a massive advantage over foreign opponents. You only have to see how light players get 100BB-plus into a pot in the early levels of a tournament to see they’re just not used to playing such a good structured event. They’re used to being all-in early, because they generally don’t have any wiggle room. Conversely, I’ve gone whole Day Ones in UK events without ever being all-in.

Of course, in Vegas UK players will point to WSOP events and say, ‘Crapshoot.’

For those that don’t know, WSOP events give you a starting stack of three times the buy-in. The cheaper the event, the shorter stack you start with.
For the more expensive events, such as the $10k Main Event, this affords you the huge luxury of a 30k stack. With a two-hour clock, this is the godfather of well-structured, deep-stacked events.

I’ve gone deep a couple of times in the Main Event, and never cease to be amazed at how easily players not used to being so deep stack off. I actually enjoyed the pleasure of being chip leader of the Main Event six years ago, but ask yourself this – if you were my opponent in the hand that gave me the big stack, would you do the lot?

The blinds were 1k/2k on Day 2 of the Main Event and I had already built up a double average stack of around 335k. The tournament chip leader got moved to my table, a guy I later found out was a school teacher and part-time player named Brian Schaedlich. He had a monster stack of over 800k, and needed two floor staff to help him carry all his chips to our table.

He limped into a pot from under the gun for 2k. Everyone passed to me on the button, and I made it 6k with two queens.

The blinds passed and Brian called my raise. A flop of Q-5-3 rainbow gave me top set, so when Brian check-raised my 6k C-bet to 15k, I wanted to get as much money into the pot as I could. The only value hands that made sense to me were sets of fives or threes. There were no draws of note, so I made it 50k. Brian then moved all-in for over 300k effective, and I made the brave call.

Brian had slow played Aces (he had one more out than I expected!) and, luckily for me, couldn’t find a friendly turn or river. I won the 340-odd big blind pot and took over the chip lead.

PokerNews reported at the time that he asked, “What could I do?”
Well, without sounding harsh… fold? There just isn’t a hand I’d play that way that two Aces beats. While it’s always hard to fold the boots, when you’re 170bb deep is definitely the time to do it. While the standard of play has undoubtedly moved on since 2008, you’d be surprised how many basic errors inexperienced players make when playing deep-stacked.

While the Main Event is a deep-stack players dream, the smaller buy-in events prove much harder to negotiate, with their shorter starting stacks (although a special shout out must go to WSOP Event #51, the $1,500 deep-stack, which has a 15k starting stack).

The normal $1,500 events, for example, have 4,500 starting stacks – an outrageous liberty if you listen to some British players!

The problem is, we’ve become used to lovely structures and deep-stacks. We’ve lost the skills we used to have back in the days when a 10k starting stack was almost unheard of, never mind the 25k, 30k or 50k we can get for even small buy-in events these days.

Playing a 4,500 starting stack is still a skill, it’s just a different skill to playing 30k. Deep-stack players are used to seeing lots of flops early, never folding a small pair, or even suited connectors pre-flop.
With a shorter starting stack, you just have to have more discipline. The blinds start at 25/25 and with a one hour clock. The last level of Day One, which is when you generally approach the money bubble, is still only 300/600 with 75; it’s a long way from being a crapshoot.

I’ve built up a stack of over 100k on Day One of one of these events before; you just have to play the stack and make sure you don’t lose your first big all-in confrontation! If you don’t have the application for these shorter stack tournaments though, the great thing about a summer in Vegas is the amount of choice on offer.

The Venetian deep-stacks are well known for their great structures and starting stacks, not to mention the recreational nature of the players.
There are also festivals at the Wynn and Aria, plus downtown at the Golden Nugget and Binions with varying buy-ins and very varying standards of play.

There are chances to bag a six figure score at all these Vegas venues this summer, so if you’re used to playing deep-stacked poker, use that experience against others that haven’t been afforded such a luxury. While you may not grab the headlines any British bracelet winners will get, you could very well just land your biggest ever score without ever coming up against players good enough to win your local £20 deep-stack.

Tags: Jeff Kimber, strategy, WSOP 2014