05/16/2006 11:00PM

Hole is too deep, players are too loose


The World Series of Poker, which launches its three-month marathon at the end of next month, might think of stealing its advertising slogan from the New York State Lottery's "a dollar and a dream" campaign and the dairy people's "Got Milk?" The WSOP people can pitch "Got $161,000?"

Playing from start to finish in every event in this year's WSOP would run somewhere in the neighborhood of $175,000, including the $161,000 in buy-ins for some 45 events, airfare, hotel for 46 nights, 138 meals at three squares a day, taxis and tips, and miscellaneous - a total that doesn't include booze and lap dances since we will assume we're going to Vegas strictly to play poker.

When talking about tough ways to make an easy living, this would rank right up there with the professional horse player who goes broke on a DQ or a pro golfer who makes triple bogey on the first hole of qualifying. Being stuck and playing scared trying to get out is no way to play. But for the horseplayer and the golfer, they can at least rely on their skills to fight their way back. For today's professional poker player, overcoming a $175,000 hole against a sea of amateurs and the ever increasing "all-in," then even the best of the best are in a heap of trouble.

Not to sound like an old-timer, but when I first played in the main event - way back in the stone ages of 2002 - the field was a reasonable 631 players, the tournament lasted four days, and the game they were playing was poker. Now, it's little more than an all-in-push-fest and may the best king-jack off suit run down pocket aces.

With the exception of that year's champion - an absolutely clueless player who got run over by the deck time after time after making some of the worst calls in the history of the game - it was unheard of for anyone in the main event to play those types of hands. If somebody raised, and you held one of those hands that only play well in blackjack (K-10, Q-J, A-9), you threw it in the muck.

Not anymore. In today's game, not only will you see people call raises with those hands, but they will also re-raise and then not even think for a moment before calling off the remainder of their chips when the original bettor puts them all-in. And then come the beats. You have aces, he has K-Q, and the flop comes with a J-10. Everybody in America knows that he's going to make the straight, and he does.

Professionals know this is simply the nature of the game - that you want players who will call off all their chips with K-Q, that this is how you make your money. That in the long run . . . blah, blah, blah.

Experience and reality say this is simply not the case. Give somebody the chance to suck out on you, and they will. If you don't give them the chance, they can't. Simple as that.

For me, there is nothing to prove at the poker table other than wanting to win a pot. There is no desire to be the bigger, more macho, tougher guy. When I get into a pot, I never want action - ever! If they were to deal me 14 aces and I had a redraw for royal flush, I will still overbet the pot every single time and then tell everybody what I have in the hope they will fold. Action is for tough guys - all I want is the pot. Give me one pot of antes and blinds every round, and I will last forever.

In 2002, that was exactly my strategy, and I lasted until the final three tables, ultimately finishing in 26th place, which back in those days was good for a tidy $40,000 score and has ever since made for a very nice story.

But you can't play like that anymore. Today you are going to get called. You could be dealt two red aces, bet all your chips, then stick the aces on your forehead, and you are still going to get called.

So how are you supposed to overcome that $175,000 nut? Maybe some of those guys who have those hockey jersey contracts can subsidize some of their cost of doing business by looking silly, and if you live in Vegas and your mom makes you lunch and you carpool, maybe you can save a couple of bucks, but other than that I just don't see the outs.

They are of course giving away a whole big pile of money, and all sorts of people will win all sorts of cash. But from an investment point of view, unless you're going for the booze and lap dances, you would be better off staying home and betting a $1 quick pick in the lottery.

Kurt Paseka, a former turf writer, is a regular at New York City tracks and has cashed in the main event at the World Series of Poker.