Special thanks to David Beneake, who was invaluable in assisting in writing this week’s article.
Poker is a funny game/sport. It is the only game I know of where a rank amateur can reasonably compete with the greatest players in the world, if he/she is lucky enough, and not overly unlucky. Take a look at the November Nine at the World Series of Poker this year.
On the one hand, you have arguably the best CURRENT poker player in the world right now with Phil Ivey. He has already won two bracelets in this year’s World Series, to go along with his previous five, and played through a starting field of 6,500 players in the Main Event to reach the final table.
On the other hand, you have Darvin Moon, a Maryland lumber business owner and casual poker player, who is currently the chip leader with nearly 60,000,000 chips. If you do the math, he has nearly 30% of all the chips in the game, and there are eight other people dividing up the remains.
So what is it about poker that allows these two players, completely different in style and skill, to be able to best 6,490 other players and be sitting at the final table? The only answer is “great cards”. You could convince me that a proven great player like Phil Ivey played his way in with masterful skill and timely bluffs. I’d believe that. But you could never convince me that Darvin Moon was able to pull that off. And if Darvin Moon needs great cards, and a lot of timely luck to make it, then I would have to assume that the other eight players sitting there needed them too.
The difference is that Darvin Moon needed those great cards starting on day one, and he got them all along the way. Phil Ivey, on the other hand, was surely able to make some great plays and decisions that allowed him to survive when lesser players would have been defeated.
How do I know this? Simple: Phil Ivey has seven WSOP bracelets, one World Poker Tour title, eight World Poker Tour final tables, and is #2 in the history of poker for total tournament winnings with over $10,000,000. If you’re wondering who is #1, it is Jamie Gold, who has $12,000,000. The difference is that Gold won his entire total by winning the largest Main Event ever. He has never come close to winning again.
Ivey has won WSOP bracelets in Omaha, 2-7 Lowball, SHOE, Seven-Card Stud, and his WPT win was in Texas Hold Em. (For comparison, Phil Helmuth, the record holder with 11 WSOP bracelets, has never won a bracelet in an event other than Texas Hold Em).
So they say that a person’s chances of winning a tournament at the final table is in direct proportion to the amount of chips he has in front of him. Since Moon has 30% of the chips, he has a 30% chance of winning it all, if you only consider where they sit now before the next card is dealt. Ivey, with around 7%, has a 7% chance of winning it all. That is, if you follow what the text book says. I believe that Ivey has a better chance than Moon, if Moon doesn’t get pocket Aces every time Ivey has Kings. In other words, if Moon continues to get great cards, then he’ll win. Period. But if the cards don’t continue to fall his way, Ivey can surely outplay him to the title.
One other story to watch is Jeff Shulman, who comes to the final table with nearly 20,000,000 chips. Shulman is the outspoken editor of Card Player Magazine, and is widely considered to be the biggest horse’s a** in the game today when it comes to the World Series of Poker. This is probably because Card Player magazine is no longer the magazine of choice for the WSOP (Bluff Magazine holds this distinction). Shulman has said that if he wins the bracelet this year he will throw it in the trash and never play in the WSOP or at the Rio again. And you should never count him out, as he has a previous final table in the Main Event; finishing 7th in 2000, the year Chris Ferguson won it. He followed that up with a 31st place finish in 2003, so his skills are undeniable. Shulman has over $2.6 million in career tournament earnings, so he should never be counted out. I just hope he doesn’t win it, as it would be difficult having a Main Event champion that is such a jerk.
With that, here is a list of the players who will compete at the final table in November, along with their chips stacks, and their career cashes and total career WSOP earnings.
Eric Buchman 34,800,000 9 $320,893
Steven Begleiter 29,885,000 0 $0
Jeff Shulman 19,580,000 15 $289, 551
Joseph Cada 13,215,000 2 $28,214
Kevin Schaffel 12,390,000 2 $92,166
Phil Ivey 9,765,000 38 $3,843,018
Antoine Saout 9,500,000 0 $0
James Akenhead 6,800,000 2 $527,867
So what is my prediction for November? It is difficult to argue with Darvin Moon’s chip lead. The only saving grace is that Eric Buchman, an accomplished tournament player in his own right, has a monster stack of his own. This means that Moon will not be able to simply run over the table, as he must fear Buchman’s chip stack. Given this, it should open play up some for players with the ability of Shulman or Ivey. On the other hand, Ivey is in a position where he really doesn’t have much room for error. Because of Ivey’s short stack, he will be forced to consider moving all in every time he is up against Moon, or even Buchman. And since Moon could easily lose 10,000,000 chips and still have a sizable chip lead, this puts Ivey in a precarious position.
In the end, I do not see a player with Moon’s limited experience pulling off this win. He will call a bet early on that will cost him his lead, and should spiral down from there. If Ivey can double up early, he is in the hunt. In the end, my money is on Buchman. He is in the perfect position to pull off the victory and wear the bracelet for 2010.
And with that, I’ll leave you with a small lesson of the week:
A-K. It isn’t as strong as you believe it is, especially as a calling hand. Stop calling everyone’s all in bets with it, and stop moving all in every time you see it in your hand. It is a great hand, so don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. But it is not the greatest hand in the world. In fact, in my opinion, A-K (suited or unsuited) is the most misplayed hand in all of poker. At BEST, A-K, when all in, is a 50/50 shot to win. At worst, it is a severe underdog to A-A or K-K. And in the middle, it is somewhat favored over 7-8 suited. That being said, those better players seeking an excuse to re-raise from the button or cut-off will rarely see anything better than AK with which to smack the table around.
So play A-K, as it is a premium hand, but be careful with what you do with it. As with any hand (remember we discussed A-A last week?), you must be ready, willing and able to lay down A-K when the situation warrants it.
A friend once told me that A-K will determine whether you make or miss the money in any tournament, and I believe he is correct. What happens when you play it, and what you do or don’t do when you have it, will make or break you in any tournament. Overplay it at your own peril.
Here’s an example: You’re fourth in chips with eight players left at the final table. The player under the gun, who is the short stack, shoves all in preflop. The player second in chips is next to act, and he immediately shoves all in, hoping to go head’s up with the short stack, and scare everyone else away. It folds to you, and you look down to A-K. What do you do? Your decision here will determine whether you make the money or not. If it was me, I would fold. The second all-in bet indicates to me that at best I am in a 50/50 situation against a pair. Why risk my entire tournament in a coin flip with someone who has more chips than me?
You could call, and hope to win the hand and move up to one of the chip leader positions yourself. I won’t argue that point at all. I am just telling you what I would do. There is no right answer here. But be assured, your decision here will determine your final finish in this game. Call or fold, and be ready to accept the outcome.
In my opinion, the biggest difference between professional play vs. amateur play is the ability to read situations accurately. Is now the time to re-raise with nothing? Is now the time to call the huge bet with my straight when there’s a flush on the board? Do I fold A-K from the small blind when there’s a raise in front of me and a very aggressive chip leader in the big blind? Who can I steal from at the table and how often? How many times can I re-raise from the button/cutoff before they quit believing me? Who can I trap under very good conditions for me? Is it up to me to defend the table against the player who keeps shoving from early position and either is not getting called or winning the races?
Also, I believe a pro can find the time and space to breath and reassess his strategy and make adjustments far more often and more accurately than the hack, who only seems to re-think after they’ve raised and called from early position once too often, or called an all-in with AK for the third time and lost, or raises from the small blind too often and gets slapped, or……I think you get the picture.
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