PokerStars really is getting huge these days. The number of people that have qualified for the 2006 WSOP main event through PokerStars has already eclipsed the total number of entrants to the entire 2003 event, according to their weblog. I'll be competing in the World Blogger Championship of Online Poker (WBCOOP) on the 18th, as I see that my registration has recently been confirmed. This is not to be confused of course with the Universe National Cup Championship Series of Online/Offline/Virtual Poker Game Of The Millennia (UNCCSOOVPGOTM), which is still three months away.
First place wins a paid entry to the WSOP main event and free travel, while 2nd-9th get paid entries into the smaller $1500 event that, with a win, can get you into main event if you can't pony up the $10k fee. The amazing thing about this is I remember hearing that the fee for the main event is going up next year, possibly to $15k, for the sole purpose of keeping so many people from winning their way into the main event via online cardrooms. It may not be fair, but it makes sense, given 800 of this years players are coming from PokerStars alone.
With this tournament looming, practice has gotten underway in earnest. Three quick sit&go's later, I see that while I have some work to do on my game, I've not fallen completely off the boat. The last two of these games I came in runner up, out of 9 players, and later out of 18. There are two rationales at work here, one is that you need to get your work in while playing in very large field games because that's what the tournament is going to be. These things tend to last quite a while, and it's vital to keep making smart decisions for hours on end. On the other hand, playing in many small field games gives you practice at winning with a short stack. That's also key, because if you can't survive on a short stack in the first hour (or in the case of in-person tournaments that last days), you certainly aren't going to make it to the end.
Second out of nine isn't bad; second out of eighteen isn't either, but I didn't last more than a couple of minutes once both games went heads up. And it's not because I'm a bad poker player, it's entirely because I so rarely play poker, and on top of that I rarely make it heads up when I do play. I'm not a pro; I don't play 15 hours a day, every day. This is the first time I've played -- much less seriously practiced -- in months. It's going to take a while, and thankfully I have a good amount of time to improve.
The last very large field game I played in was around 6,000, and I finished somewhere near 210-220th. That's not bad at all, but it's going to take more than that to get in the money in the WBCOOP. While the field is not fixed size -- there are 1600 or so registered right now -- the prizes are. In cash-prize-only tournaments, the more players there are, the more money there is to go around, and the further into the field the money goes. 54th is where the buck stops in this game, and as with all my tournaments, that's my goal from the time I sit down until either I bust out, or achieve my goal.
There isn't much point in playing for the win if you bust out early, so it only makes sense to me to at least make sure you get your money back, and that means placing in it. I achieved that goal in the past two little sit&go's, 2nd was worth about $1600 play money in a field of 18; that's with a buy-in of $300+20. In a field of 6,000, it was 27th or better, so I failed, but I continue to improve, and that was well over a year ago. If I get my writing work in, I'll probably be on PokerStars just about every day from now until the tournament begins, learning, improving, and hopefully winning.
Update: I forgot to put this in the post, which is something worth noteing. You can't win a poker tournament purely on skill, everybody knows that. No Limit Texas Hold'em is not all about the luck, but it still plays a huge factor. Here is an example:
Final table of an 18-player Sit&Go tournament. There are maybe 5 people left. I don't remember where the blinds are, and as usual I have no real idea what kind of players the other people are. My hole cards are Ace Five offsuit (A5o), and the flop comes down A-5-9. My two pair look solid, and there are two other players in the hand with me. One is a short stack with 500 or so in chips, I have about 3200, and the third player is the monster with 13,000. Monster can afford to do pretty much anything he wants, so it's really hard to get a read off him. Short Stack goes all-in for his 500, and I have my dominating two-pair, so I call. Monster raises it to 2000, and it comes right back to me. I love my hand; the table is no good for a straight, and no good for a flush. The only thing that can beat me right now are trips, and for all the world, I didn't even let that little fact enter my mind. I call.
The turn and river come down, and I don't remember what they were because it wasn't relavent to what happened. Short Stack had a pocket pair of 9's and had flopped 999. I was devistated, but it wasn't bad at all. Short Stack won the main pot because he had myself and the Monster beat handily, but the main pot only had about 1500 in it I think. Monster's big raise was after Short Stack was all-in, so it went into a side pot for just him and myself to battle over, and that was the good news. Monster had A7o, giving him a pair of aces, but my two-pair was better, so I won the side pot. I had only put 500 into the main pot, but had over 2000 in the side pot, and actually came out better than anyone. I went from 3200 to about 5100, and yet still technically lost the hand.
That's luck. That let me make it to second place. That's poker.