On Tuesday, I finished 2nd in the WPT Deepstacks Los Angeles Main Event. The event took place at my "home casino," the Bicycle Casino ("The Bike") in Bell Gardens. Starting with a short stack of 300,000 in chips (effective M less than 3, fewer than 8BB), I managed to get heads up with a 4 to 1 chip lead. But heads up matches can be fickle, and four coolers in fairly rapid succession later (KJ vs AJ, KJ vs KQ, rivered Broadway straight vs. rivered backdoor flush, and A7 vs. A8), I was shaking the hand of the champion James Gorham. While he got lucky in the end, James is a great player, who manhandled me when I was the chip leader on Day 2, and who had entered the Final Table with the chip lead himself. Here’s my analysis of the event.
While I entered the event with by far the shortest stack, I was fairly confident. (Don’t believe me? Check out my pre-game interview) I actually think that short stack play is the strongest part of my tournament game (owing to my having had so many over the years, I imagine), and I knew that if I could find a few cards early and steal a couple of pots or win that first double up before getting low in chips, I’d have as good a chance as anybody.
That’s exactly what happened. Although I lost a round of blinds almost immediately, I managed to pass through with pocket sevens, and then doubled when my KT held up against 88. After that I was off to the races. While I was hitting some flops, I was fortunate enough to be up against players who didn’t really want to fight. James, because he was the chip leader, and was happy to let everyone else go to war while he picked his spots and picked up a few chips here and there, and everyone else because they were either ABC players who were only going to play real hands, or because they were waiting for the short stacks to bust so they could move up the ladder.
Of course, putting me at a table full of tight players is like dropping a piranha in a goldfish tank, and I went to town, opening, calling, and raising with a wide range of hands and rapidly building my stack. I think the commentators at first thought I was just a maniac (Tristan Wade at one point saying “Craig just cares what he has, he doesn’t care what anybody else might have, he’s got a good hand and he’s going with it,” which is patently ridiculous), but as the match proceeded I think they recognized there was some method to my style of play. As the players fell, my confidence grew, and although when we got 3 handed, Prash several times advocated for a deal, I wasn’t having it.
After James eliminated Prash and we were heads up, we did make a deal, taking 70K each from the prize pool and playing for the rest of the cash and the trophy. It seemed like a logical move, since we were almost dead even in chips at that point and James was the strongest player at the table, and it worked out after I hit that rash of coolers.
The bad luck at the end was disappointing, but I took solace in three points. A) I lost to the odds on favorite coming in, and I felt I had outplayed him, losing only because of some unfortunate situations that would have defeated almost any player B) I had to get lucky to get there, as does any player. I entered the tournament late, an idea I’ve been toying with for a while. When I arrived, one of my opponents jokingly admonished me for not saying hello to everyone when I joined the table. “I won’t be here long,” I joked. Although the reverse psychology on the poker gods worked, five hands in, it seemed like my words might be prophetic. I was all in and covered against two other players, holding Ac 5d, on a board reading Qc Jc 8c, up against Qh Jd and 9s Th. The beautiful 4c popped up on the river, and I tripled up and, much like with the final table, never looked back, running my stack up to a Day 1 Chip Lead of 417K. C) I had entered the final table with the short stack, and while I was confident, I knew all the confidence in the world wouldn’t have helped me if I didn’t get a little bit of luck early, and having to exit the final table after five minutes with all my friends and family watching on line would have really sucked.
I learned from social media that Tristan Wade had been a bit hard on me in the commentary, and I love that my boys had my back, firing back at Tristan on Twitter. I feel like he just didn’t understand my game at first, and came around at the end. After the game, he offered me some very gracious, positive, and congratulatory tweets on Twitter, so as far as I’m concerned, we’re good.
One of Tristan’s biggest issues with me was that I was playing a little too passively against James Gorham, entering pots against him with weak hands and checking them down, passing up opportunities to steal pots on the river when James appeared weak. What Tristan couldn’t have known was that I had played with James all day on Day 2, and he had tossed me around like a rag doll, whittling my stack down so much that at one point I thought I might not even cash, which would have been a disaster, although I know I’m far from the first chip leader to have this happen to. A large part of James’ success against me came from calling down river bluffs, and I only managed to get back into the game when I caught a nut flush against his jack high flush on a board where a fourth diamond hit the river and got him to pay off a big bet.
From this experience I felt strongly that James would call me fairly light on the river even when taking weak lines, which is why I challenged him on the river fewer times than I would one of the other players. I think this strategy bore fruit late in the match, when I got James to call off a large river bet with only a pair of threes on a K K 2 9 5 board with me holding K5. In general, I know Tristan was “calling it like he sees it,” and he didn’t know me as a player at all before this match. Still, thanks again to my brother and friends for having my back.
Jokes about my love of clubs (the suit, not the partying venue) aside, I thought Owais’ commentary and insight was quite good. A couple of times his analysis of what I was planning or thinking was right on. At one point, he accused me of Hollywooding (which, while I’m not against in principle, I generally don’t do) but after a couple of minutes, revised his analysis and suspected I was playing a leveling game in my head with Prash, which is exactly what was happening.
Owais observed that he thought I had a tell, which was that when I merely announced a big river bet, I was strong, whereas when I put the chips out, I was bluffing. Although I could see it might look this way on T.V., I don’t think this is the case. Typically, if I just announce a bet, I will always put the chips out eventually. I’ll wait ten seconds or so to see if I get an instant response, and if my opponent tanks, I’ll bring out the chips. Most of my announced river value bets were either snap called or insta folded, so there was no need to bring out the chips. You’ll see there’s one hand, were I was bluffing, where Owais insisted I brought the chips out, proving his theory, and Tristan wasn’t so sure I had. This was one of those situations where I announced, James went into the tank, and when I saw he wasn’t going to act right away, I counted out the stack. Nevertheless, now that this “tell” is out there, I’ll probably play with it in case any of my future opponents watched the stream (or read this blog).
All in all, it was a great experience, and knowing all my friends and family were watching and cheering me on was the best part (after, you know, all that money). If you have any questions about the match, post them in the comments and I'll be happy to answer if I can. Looking forward to the next one!