I have been involved with poker tournaments as an organizer uptil now. In March 2011, during IPS (India Poker Series), on the Sunday 6th March 2011 event which was a 10K Buy In Freeze Out event.
The field size was 60 participants and most of the players were good. It was a tough tournament and very few players had a bingo attitude.
I never considered myself a good poker player, neither cash nor tourney. My good friend Aditya “Mastermind” Agarwal used to always tell me that my game style (he has played lots of cash based home games with me) is very much suitable for tourneys. He used to use a phrase to encourage and prompt me to play tourney though I never did so, his phrase was “Even Phil Ivey cannot take out chips from you” and that I had immense patience and I could keep on grinding so that the other player got frustrated. I used to always think he is just doing ego massage to me and trying to inflate me up. But then this time round, Craig Wildman, our Tournament Director (TD) also told me to play saying that he has seen me play cash games and I should give it a try to play a tourney. Encouragement coming from two such quarters whose words I value when it comes to poker, I went ahead and registered myself as one of the last participants to do so.
The table was very tight. The players playing super safe. I had to be careful. I played my game in a different style. Mixing my tight game with a few hands to steal the blinds. It made me last for quite a while. I was most of the time ahead or rather over double of the average stack. Then one hand sent me down crippled and I was a shade below the average stack. I started to lose my calm at that time. I left my table, took a round of the poker room and after a deep breath came and sat at my seat. I had skipped a hand where I was the big blind. I did that as I needed to get my nerves back in control.
I started to regain back control over the game and I was soon the 2nd chip lead in the tournament. I realized that losing the calm is the worst thing for a poker player. Just at that time the TD broke our table and we were all sent to 3 different tables. Here I was with 3 people from my original table and 6 new faces. I had to replan my strategy. I left the table and took a round of the other tables to see the chip stacks of others. I was no doubt the 2nd chip lead but the person with the chip lead was almost 3 times as me. This shook me off but then I realized that this is a benefit to me as the table he is playing on, he can bully others and it gives me an edge at my table.
I seated myself and started to play my calm game once again. I was at that time almost double of the average stack. But soon players started to get busted and my stack was same while the average stack kept rising. I had to ensure I had the percentage edge maintained. This is when i stole a few more blinds (and antes) and busted one player with my back to back AA and AK suited. I was back in the game with classic action on. 14 players left, average stack and I were at par because I had lost one hand and also folded pocket JJ. This folding was a strategic fold. I just wanted that 5 players get busted and I reach the final table, I dint want to be amongst the busted 5. I was lucky and quickly the 5 went bust and we were down to the final 9. Average stack was now, creeping up and I was just ahead of that. I was 3rd chip lead with one player close on heels while the leaders were 50% and 150% ahead of me, and now the game was getting tougher as the blinds and antes kept going up. The final 9 were all brilliant players. They had been grinding for 6 hours just like me.
The players with stacks shorter than me kept falling like nine pins, much as I had expected. I was losing my chips in posting antes and blinds. And now we were down to 5 players. Just then Alex Willson from USA lost his stack to me and I was into the game though with the shortest stack but there was one more player with a stack shade bigger than mine. Alex had said earlier in the day twice, he would be most glad if I got him busted and his stack came to me. Alex has now returned back to USA after playing IPS Jan and Mar 2011 events. I take this opportunity to thank him for his kind and generous words.
Just as what destiny had in store for me, moment later I got a AK suited and the player who was UTG shoved all in, he was 3rd chip lead and had chips a shade more than me. I thought and I thought what to do. Shall I fold and then wait for the 3 of them to fight it out and secure a 3rd place for myself, or shall I call and test the waters. I was tempted to fold. I was thinking for a long while. No one called for the time and I had enough thinking time. I finally decided to call. People behind my back were murmuring, why was I thinking, it was an insta-call, but little did they understand what I was thinking. Jasven (he is my friend as well) flipped open 93os and I showed my AKs. I had my 6th sense telling me that its pack up time for me. I just was not feeling good about my call. And it so happened that Jasven paired up on the flop and on the turn I got my 2 spades and now the river was crucial to me. Prashant, the dealer, opened and made Jasven his 2nd pair and there was nothing for me in the game now. I was out after a wonderful experience. I thank all players for my wonderful experience.
What I wish to convey to new players from my experience over the years is that there are a few key things to keep in mind while playing poker.
1. Keep your patience. You will get your share of good cards. Exploit them when you get them. Dont over play them. Like Sachin Tendulkar waits for the lose ball, you too have to wait for the opportunity.
2. Keep your nerves in place. When you are tending to lose your calm, take a walk, take a deep breath and calm your nerves. Reminds us of Baba Ramdev.
3. Poker has its share of luck but it is primarily a game of skill. Use the skill and also the experience to your advantage. No sense on keeping on saying you got a bad beat or tell stories of suck-outs. Just play your game right and if your game is good then one of the days you will be in the money and also be the winner.
4. Don’t let another players past track or his chip stack psyche you out, if you get psyched, you have lost half the battle there itself.
5. High rollers play tournaments so that they can improve their game by playing against a variety of players and also they learn how to play within their restricted stack as they cannot top up unlike a cash game where they can keep doing so. They are brilliant players but there only to further improve their game. Respect their game and learn from their style, you will never regret it. One person whom I keenly watch is my friend Rohit Bhalla whose game I regard as outstanding. He is most down to earth and never shows that he is superior to others.
6.Folding is an art. Try and master that. You can only master it if you play regular tourneys. If you can lay down hands then you will save a lot of money in the long run. I am good at it but still a long way away from being very good at it.
My poker journey continues as I look forward to participating in more freeze out tournaments. I wish to learn from these tournaments rather than just look at money finishes.
Looking forward to my next tournament at India Poker Series which would be from 6th to 8th of May 2011.