World Series of Poker: Old Guys Rule!

[Editor’s Note: This post is penned by Blair Rodman, co-author of our tournament-poker strategy book Kill Phil and our upcoming book All About Sports Betting. Blair has blogged about the WSOP in years past and we welcome him back from his self-imposed hiatus.]

I hadn’t played a poker tournament for about five years, for a number of reasons. One of the reasons was that I had some undiagnosed health issue. The last time tried to play a WSOP event, I couldn’t focus. I even had trouble seeing. And I couldn’t wait to get knocked out after about an hour. I believe I had mold poisoning, though no doctor could help diagnose what was wrong. I got out of the place I was living and feel much better these days.

Another reason for not playing was that it’s just not as much fun as it used to be. A lot (not all) of the old timers who made up the pre-poker-boom era might have been rotten human beings, but they were entertaining. Once the kids took over the scene, the atmosphere changed. Hoodies and headphones don’t make for good social interaction.

I really wanted play a WSOP event, to test my health and stamina and have some fun. The perfect vehicle was the Super Seniors event. This would be my first time playing it. When I was playing regularly, the age requirement was 65, which I didn’t qualify for. Once I reached 65, they changed it to 60, which seemed like a plot against me!

I went down the night before, did the COVID-vaccination proof thing, and went to register. The line at the regular entry cage was long, so I went to the VIP line, which I qualify for as a bracelet winner. But I didn’t have my player’s card with the bracelet-winner stamp, so simply strolled past the security guard like I owned the place and had no issue.

I got out my poker gear from storage, which includes a great backpack/cushion combination that I bought at a poker expo at the Rio back in the heyday. The WSOP seats are uncomfortable and this thing is perfect for marathon poker sessions. I’ve never seen one like it anywhere since, so it’s a prized possession.

Poker structures are constantly evolving and one of the important ways, at the WSOP at least, is that no-limit tournaments have antes from the first level. This makes the early levels important and coming in late like in the old days, when the early levels with small blinds were relatively meaningless, is a mistake. The advantage held by good players in tournaments is getting the chips from the live amateurs before they get broke (more on this in another post).

As I walked to my table, I was expecting to see a lot of familiar faces from the old days. But not only didn’t I know anyone at my table, looking around, I didn’t see a single player I knew. In fact, during the day, I saw only about four people I recognized. A lot of the players weren’t regulars and saw the Super Seniors as a great chance to experience the WSOP. As such, the players at my table were pretty buttoned up in terms of interacting, seeming nervous about the atmosphere.

Then I saw a fifth player I knew when Doyle Brunson made a late and brief appearance, getting broke quickly. When he sat at the table next to us, the players at my table were over-the-top excited just to see him, confirming that they weren’t used to the scene. (BTW, the reason I always say “got broke” rather than “went broke” goes back to Doyle’s book, where he explained that poker players don’t want to say they went broke, because it implies they played bad. Got broke has more of a connotation of circumstances out of their control.)

However, buttoned up doesn’t describe the play! Two of the guys to my right were in pretty much every pot and they were running over the table. I was dying to pick up some of their chips, but throughout the day, I was brutally card dead. I picked up a few pots as they allowed me to hit some draws cheaply, so I ran my 20k opening stack to over 40k. When I got aggressive and tried to bully a few pots, they weren’t having any of it. After blowing off a few chips, I had to button up and wait for real hands, which never came. I had to sit and watch one of the craziest tournament tables I’ve ever seen without getting any of the chips they were throwing around. It was maddening, as I knew these two guys would give their chips to someone and it wasn’t going to be me.

Sure enough, they got broke (actually, these guys went broke!), mostly at the hands of new players to the table. After the dinner break with two one-hour levels left to play, I was back to around my 20k starting stack. At this point, my stack was in Kill Phil all-in stage, so I started successfully moving in aggressively, picking up significant blinds and antes.

While the players at my starting table were pretty reserved, some of the replacement players were much more talkative and fun. When a nice guy sat down to my right, we got to jawboning. He was commenting on my move-in strategy and I eventually told him that if he wanted to know what I was doing, he should read my book, Kill Phil! At that, he excitedly started telling me that not only did he have the book, but his poker buddy/coach loves it and would be thrilled to hear that he was sitting next to me. He texted his friend and it was pretty cool. That said, it also made him tighten up, as he was afraid I’d move in behind him, so I probably picked up a few pots I wouldn’t have if he’d come in before me.

One of the new players to the table looked pretty young, comparatively anyway, so the floor was called over and asked him for ID. Turns out he was 54 and they picked up his chips. I don’t know if he’ll get a refund, but it’s a good thing he was spotted early. Imagine if it had happened deep in the money.

A kind of tradition at the WSOP is that near the end of the day, players start ordering beers. I had a few and we started telling jokes and stories — thoroughly enjoyable. One of the other innovations at the WSOP is that when it’s 10 minutes before the end of the last level, the clock is stopped and somewhere they draw a card determining how many hands will be played before the end of the day’s play. This eliminates players stalling to try to game where the buttons land. It’s a great innovation! It reinforced my conclusion that these players were pretty new to the WSOP, as almost no one but me knew what was going on.

I had run my 20k up to 34k solely by picking up blinds and antes. The average was about 60k, so I was one double-up away from being above average in chips when we came back in the morning. We bagged our chips, which was another adventure, as most players at my table had no clue what to do. I tried to help them, but, honestly, it’s a bit confusing and, even though I’ve done it hundreds of times, it wasn’t automatic for me.

The next morning I went to the site, found my table assignment in the reports as I always do, and unsurprisingly found no one I’d ever heard of. Everyone had middling stacks, none to be wary of. In previous events, if I didn’t know the players at my table, I went to database and looked up their tournament history to see what I was up against. In this event, it wasn’t worth the effort.

A lot of poker players are dying for someone to listen to their bad-beat stories, but hey, if you want me to listen, you have to put in some effort. That’s why I wrote this post😊. Listen. The second hand, I picked up two kings and moved in. A guy to my left called and turned over two tens. In hold ’em, when the dealer puts out the flop, you always see one card before he spreads the flop. This is called the door card. (In stud games, the upturned 3rd street card is called the door card). The door card was a king! I was immediately feeling pretty good. The other two flop cards were a jack and queen, giving him a straight draw. Uh oh. I was still about a 3-1 favorite, but poker is cruel. The turn was a nine giving him a straight and left me needing the board to pair, which of course it didn’t — or I might still be playing and not writing. Thanks for listening.

I took away a lot of positives from the event. These events are long and hard. I can’t believe that not too long ago, I was playing upwards of 30 events each WSOP and for a few years writing daily blog posts as well. I could never do that again, but my focus and stamina were good, it was great to play another WSOP event, and I had a lot of fun. I have three more events penciled in.

Stay tuned. Hopefully, I won’t have more bad-beat stories. But I probably will.