07/11/2006 11:00PM

Tackling the tourists early on easy part of World Series play


LAS VEGAS - As the World Series of Poker enters its second week of play, there is so much action and so many superstar wannabes that even the Amazon Room at the Rio - with its 100,000 square feet and 200-plus tables - can hardly keep up with demand.

Trying to get in a satellite only a half-hour after getting into town, I had a run-in with some slob off-roading it on one of those motorized fat guy tricycles, the ones with the little basket and the horn. Both wanting the last seat for a $500 satellite into the following day's $5,000 Omaha Hi-lo, 8 or better event, I got there first and got the seat.

While lack of salad in his diet was a bad beat for him and seemed like action for me, it was too late before I realized the game they were playing was limit. Play limit, hi-lo poker your first night in Vegas and you might as well be putting nickels in an Elvis slot machine in the 7-11 out by the airport. Not enough action for me, and I was deliberately the first one out.

If you've ever been to Disneyland and had your picture taken with Mickey Mouse or to Augusta National for the Masters and got Jack Nicklaus's autograph, you can get a sense of the atmosphere at the WSOP. It's a mix of stone-cold tourists, well-intended amateurs, and hard-core professionals - and they all sit at the same table and mix it up. Whereas at Augusta they don't let you tee it up with Tiger Woods, at the WSOP all you have to do is throw in an entry fee and you'll find yourself sitting across from Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, or any of the dozens of poker celebrities hanging around the room.

While playing in a poker game with a Johnny Chan makes for a cool story to tell your friends, they play this game for real money. Playing poker for keepsies and take-homesies against a Phil Hellmuth is a very bad idea. Yet the poker dreamers are out there in force and giving their money away to these guys.

When I say giving it away, some of these players would be better off simply walking into the room, handing half of what they were going to buy in for to any one of the pros, asking for an autograph, and then just making up a bad beat story to tell their friends while skipping the process of being humiliated.

Playing in Event 9 last Friday and Saturday, a $2,500 no-limit event that attracted 1,290 players with a first prize of nearly $700,000, I witnessed plays that were beyond comprehension to any semi-rational individual. In most WSOP events, they give you tournament chips equal to the amount of the buy-in (in this case $2,500) and the blinds start at $25 and $50, a very small amount in relation to your starting stack. Meaning essentially that to get involved early in a tournament and risk all your chips for a starting pot of $75 is colossally foolish.

Yet people were raising the blinds $300 and $400 hand after hand - from under the gun no less - and getting callers! For the uninitiated, if you raise eight times the big blind from under the gun, and a good player just smooth-calls behind you with position, you are so far behind that you might as well fold right then. Cleary, there are many uninitiated poker players out there.

Early in the tournament, some kid with a backward baseball cap and sunglasses gave me all his chips when he raised five times the big blind from under the gun. He ended up with only pocket eights yet called all-in on the river when the board was Q J J A 10. My full house won in a gallop even though all I needed was any card to match the board to beat him.

Just a few hands later, somebody else also gave me all his chips for no reason at all. The guy chased a flush to the river and got there. But he failed to realize that his flush card was my full house card. He gladly pushed in all his chips with his flush and ran a bad second to my full house, even though I pretty much told him my hand.

In a span of a few minutes and two hands, my starting stack of $2,500 was now $9,000, putting me in the very enviable position of being able to squeeze for good hands, and get paid, instead of having to push poor hands and get busted - making tournament poker an easy game even for a schmuck like me.

Easy, that is, when they sit you at a table full of tourists who give you all their money. Unfortunately, when the donkeys go broke, the table breaks and they move you to a table full of people who are also rich from busting the weaker players.

Then the game is not so easy, especially if they sit you to the right of the current chip leader and that chip leader is a multiple WSOP bracelet winner. With a great player on your left, you are in trouble. With a great player on your left who has all the chips, you are doomed. Players of his caliber do not let you get into a pot - they have position over every hand and force you to commit all your chips every time you make a play at a pot.

By this stage of the tournament, the starting field was whittled to 150 players and they were paying off the top 99. It was time to make a decision: I could try to outplay this guy, and the rest of the table, which by my own estimates I had about a 3 1/2 percent chance of doing, or I could squeeze and muck and limp into the money.

The obvious answer was to squeeze and muck. So the very next hand I check-raised all-in with no pair and no draw. The chip leader let me get away with it once, and we both knew that it wouldn't happen again. But with my self-respect intact, I then safely mucked my way into the money like any manly man would.

After 14 hours of play, the session was over for the night and I had $34,900 in chips, good enough for 35th place among the remaining 96 players - not a bad day's work considering the starting field of nearly 1,300, and pretty good shape going into day two.

Unfortunately, day two didn't go as well. With the blinds at $800 and $1,600, and $300 antes, each round was costing $5,000 to play. After a few rounds of looking at hands of 3-7 and 5-9, and somebody going all-in pretty much every hand, a decent starting stack all of a sudden became a short stack. With $15,000 left, I raised with K-Q on the button and was re-raised all-in by the chip leader at the table. No choice but to call, and his A-5 was good.

Ended up 66th and collected $6,000 - not exactly retirement money, but a profit nonetheless and more than I needed to get right back in line for another satellite and way more than I needed need to pick another fight with a fat guy.