Into the Wee Hours: My Day One at the WSOP

by Lou on July 9, 2007

I knew there’d be no chance, absolutely none, of recalling much of the details surrounding my play in the main event, so I tucked my Moleskine notebook—it’s advertised as the notebook of Van Gogh, Picasso, and Hemmingway—into my back pocket with a promise made to myself to record my thoughts and feelings after every significant hand, or every half-hour.

Doing so, I hypothesized, would help to focus my thoughts and efforts, which is no small task when you’re playing in an event that begins at noon and figures to end somewhere around 3:30 or 4:00 AM.

I had a plan too, and was hoping the note-taking would keep me on track there too. Unless I was shortstacked, I did not want to go all-in before the flop unless I had pocket aces or otherwise knew I had the best hand. The way I figure it, early days are all about survival and the downside of going all-in and losing so far outweighs the upside of winning an all-in confrontation that I wanted to avoid taking risks for all my chips if at all possible.

I planned to play few pots, have the edge in those I played, and survive until Day Two. My plan will change later, but first I have to make it to later, and that can be difficult, the best laid plans of mice and poker players notwithstanding.

Day One begins for me with a whimper. I fold the first five hands I’m dealt, although somewhere in the room a player is already knocked out on the second hand he plays. My table is full of players I do not recognize, with the exception of David Williams, who finished second here a few years ago, losing to Greg Raymer in the main event.

I’m in an area of the room filled with name players, and I see Sam Farha, Bill Chen, Patrick Antonius, Tony G, and David Singer at adjacent tables.

My table is aggressive. Every hand is raised, and by 12:30 PM Williams has a big stack and is playing a lot of hands.

A half-hour into the event I have played two small pots and won both of them. At 1:00, an hour into the event, I’m in the profit zone—barely. I now have $20,500, a mere $500 above my starting stack, when I have A-T, flop two pair, and have no callers into my $300 bet.

At 2:30 we’re back from our first break and entering the second level with the blinds now $100-$200. I’m in the small blind and raise the big blind (we’re the only ones active) who has only $900 remaining. He calls, and shows K-Q. I’m ahead of him with A-8 and he is gone when I flop trip eights.

The next half-hour is dead for me: no cards, no opportunities, so I just sit back and establish my image as a selective, aggressive player. I have not called a hand before the flop yet. I’ve either raised coming in or folded.

At 3:45 I wake up with a pair of aces on the button. The guy in the cut off seat raises and I reraise him. To my surprise, he moves all in. I call. He shows me A-K and I have him severely dominated with pocket aces. I win and double my stack to about $46,000.

By the beginning of Level Three I think it’s time to make my tight image pay off for me and I steal the first hand back from the break.

At 5:50—we’ve been at it for six hours now—I win two pots in succession, one with a full house and the other with the nut straight. I’m up to $55,000, and feeling good but tired. I don’t like feeling tired because I know we still have a long way to go before this march ends.

At 6:00 PM David Williams is eliminated. He is drawing dead by the turn and is up and out of his seat before the river card is dealt.

Sometime around then, Nolan Dalla announces that Day 1a had 1,287 players, and today, Day 1b, had 1,545. At that dinner break the average stack size was $27,248 and 1,134 players remained.

Dave Scharf, from Saskatoon, is down here and will play on Day 1c. He has a dinner plan and I love it. Dave will get to the restaurant about 15 minutes before the dinner break, order dinner for all of us—Dave, poker journalist and radio show co-host Amy Calistri, and me—and tomorrow night, when Dave plays his first day, I’ll return the favor. It works just as planned. I have a full hour or so to eat, though I have to get up and leave the table while Dave and Amy are still sitting there, enjoying themselves.

Barbara Enright and Max Shapiro drop by out table to say hello. Barbara was just inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, the only woman ever accorded this honor, and it’s well-deserved. Barbara and Phil Hellmuth were the only 2007 inductees.

During the dinner conversation, Dave told me that he believes players become much wilder when returning from dinner, and that the poker table takes on an entirely new dynamic.

“Maybe,” he says, “they reassess their play during dinner, and decide they need to play more aggressively in order to build chips. Maybe it’s the result of eating. Who knows? But they do tend to get wild.”

AT 9:45 PM I’m moved to a new table. I don’t recognize anyone there. Two players look like they’re on the verge of falling asleep, and I’m card dead. I decide to wait out the fallow period.

At 10:45 my new table is also broken and I’m moved again. I have no feel for this table, but it soon becomes clear there are two very aggressive players to my right. I steal a pot by reraising one of the aggressive players who doesn’t go through the motions of trying to decide whether to call me or not. He immediately pitches his cards to the muck when I reraise.

At 11:15 PM a player to my left makes a standard raise of $1,800. I’m in the big blind and call $1,200 more with 7-7, intending of taking him off the hand if the flop is small and ragged. I’m lucky enough to flop a set on a safe board—no possible straights or flushes—call his flop bet and checkraise him off his hand on the turn.

By 1:15 we return from our last break. There’s one more level to play. I have $58,000, which proves to be my high eater mark for the day. By the time we wrap things up, I’m bagging $54,500 and looking forward to playing in Day 2 on Tuesday.

I was very tired during the last level of play, and it was just an endurance test to survive intact. I had been up early, to attend the Saturday morning Poker Discussion Group breakfast—I always try to make it to this weekly breakfast when I’m in Las Vegas—but that meant I was going to be up nearly 24 hours by the item I finished playing.

My other gripe is the chairs. They are surely two-hour chairs, the kind designed for use in banquet rooms and convention centers, where two hours of comfort is about all you really need. But all day in one of those chairs playing poker makes me long for something with back support, adjustable height, and all the other amenities civilized poker players have come to expect.

Thanks to all of you who have emailed or phoned to congratulate me on surviving Day 1, and thanks too for all your well-wishes for the days to come. Poker is big surf. Waves of energy, people, cards, chips, plays, bluffs, strategies, tactics, dealers, bad lighting, worse chairs, a feeding frenzy of fans and media, all come at you simultaneously. If you catch the wave just right, you can dig right into its curl and ride it all the way to shore.

I’m gonna try my best to do just that.

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