Still Alive – Vaughn’s WSOP Day 1 Recap

by Vaughn “Vonnnnn Sannnnndmannnnn” Sandman
The following is a comment left by Vaughn recapping his Day 1 at the WSOP. We felt it was worthy of a post and an entry into the Poker Corner.

It’s 1:15 on Saturday and I am enjoying what I hope will be my last day off for a week.

Before I write anything else, I want to express a ton of gratitude. Evan, Carlo, Jeff, Jenn and Keith have been hanging around for hours on end, providing constant support and encouragement, and more or less waiting on me hand and foot. Even Richie and April were here for several hours keeping me company on breaks and cheering when I took down pots. I was very sad to see Dino go, especially on the type of cruel hand that would have separated any of us from the rest of our stacks, but it’s been great having another warrior in the field.

The Wicked Chops guys have also been very friendly and supportive, and with their press badges, they can come right up to the table to chat.

When I logged on to the site, I was just beside myself to see the updates Jeff and Jenn have been posting and the outpouring of support from the whole 4th Street crew. I am proud and honored to be here representing you guys.

Surviving here on one’s own, without a crew providing unrelenting support and constant assistance would be IMPOSSIBLE. This is by far the hardest thing I have ever tried, and I am blown away by how truly difficult it is. I say this not by means of bragging when I am still alive–I am just trying to convey something that is hard to express. An analogy that comes to mind is that it’s like being a middle reliever brought into a bases loaded jam in the deciding game of the world series–then take that feeling and stretch it out for 14 hours.

I have never wanted to leave a poker game as badly as I did in the final two sessions last night. My brain was beyond fried. And as it turned out, if I had sat out the last three hours and let my chips get blinded off, I would have more than I have right now. An interesting thing to remember in the days to come.

I have 15,650 chips, which will be about half the average stack and in the lower third come Sunday when the field recombines. At my high point last night, I was up over 40k, but I made a few mistakes and got myself in trouble.

The level of play is very advanced, and the size of the stacks make play very treacherous from the first hand. I dumped half my chips before making the necessary adjustments, which are almost counter-intuitive to good poker.

I found myself checking and calling with the best hand on several occasions, and it proved to be the best strategy. Top pair, top kicker is not a strong enough hand to die with and everybody here knows it. The minute the board develops shady with some kind of draw, pros are check-raising you for 25% of your stack when you are holding top pair on the turn with KQ. Now what the fuck do you do?

Actually, you check to cut off their bluff raise, and let them bet the hand for you. They get uncomfortable firing chips at a pot and having someone flat call them. The trick is understanding how to get through the river holding the best hand without giving anyone an opportunity to move you off of it. It’s kind of mind-boggling.

I put a raise on this Irish pro Alan Batson with top pair on the turn, and he put me all-in. So much for those chips–I backed down–and learned.

This guy was giving me fits. I had previously raised with AK–he called. The flop came QQ5 and I bet out–he promptly jacked me up and I dumped it. At this point, he was calling my preflop raises automatically, just looking for any opportunity to get into a hand with me. He was that confident in his ability to get my chips. When I finally flopped a set against him I decided to bet it hard right at him to induce a raise. He folded.

Eventually, I decided to start taking some chances with less than premium hands, and that turned out to be the deciding factor in building my stack enough to survive the day. I had planned on just playing good hands agressively, but it isn’t enough here. The problem is you’ll wait all day for those hands–and you’ll get them. But you won’t win a big pot with them because the players are too careful, and they know you have a real hand. And you can’t slowplay big pocket pairs because you are liable to wind up in a spot where you are holding the two red aces or kings and facing a huge bet on a board of JsTs9c7s, or worse (and just as likely) trapping yourself against a smaller pocket pair who has flopped a hidden set. I saw both those scenarios happen to other players more than once yesterday.

So if you can’t play top pair aggressively, and you can’t win big pots with monster pockets, how do you get any freakin’ chips??

Ultimately, I realized you have to take some chances with some hands that go against the book if you want to give yourself the opportunity to win pots. You might flop something hard to read, or more likely, you might put yourself in a position to run the right bluff.

After dumping half my stack, I found myself limping Th7h in semi-early position, and to my utter lack of surprise, Alan Batson immediately raised. Once the blind called, I decided to stay in the pot. The flop came down Td8h7d and I checked–finally a trapping spot. Batson made an unusually large bet–I think it was 1600 at a 2000 pot (he had been post-flop betting around 800-1000 in that spot), and I moved in for my last 4000. I had put him on an overpair JJ or QQ, and thought his large bet was a reaction to the heavy draws on board–he wanted to shut us out. He had a legit hand but there were a ton of turn cards that might cripple him. He folded, which was fine because top and bottom can easily get drawn out on with a running pair.

It’s interesting to note, however, that with the read I made on him in that spot, I could have made that reraise with ANY TWO CARDS and his overpair has to worry about two pair, a set and a flopped straight, not to mention his best case scenario where I’d be drawing as only a 45% dog.

Hmmmm. Welcome to the World Series of Poker. He stared me down for two minutes before folding–would he have been able to read my face or body language if I had made the move without the cards? Good question. Not quite like the internet.

A short time later I called an early position raiser from the button with Kd7d and wound up in a 3-way pot. When the flop of Ts6s2h was checked to me, I put the raiser on high cards and bet 1000. He called quickly and the other guy folded. When the 5c hit the turn and he checked, I bet out 3k, which was almost half my stack and he showed me AsQs, saying the price was too big. “I almost moved in on you” he said.

My reply “Oh I would have called you…”

Eventually Alan Batson and I started jawing a bit, and I really believe I was a major factor in putting him on tilt. He was running down online players, saying things like “I know a bunch of blokes who qualified on PokerStars. And most of them can’t play.”

I said “I guess that must be why I am making all that money.”

I raised with Ah8h and he jumped in again. When the flop came Qs8s2d I figured I had the best hand but checked because I could not stand his raise. He checked behind me. When the turn came Th I checked and he bet 1500. I still thought I had him and called quickly. I wanted him to know that if he fired another bullet on the river he should expect a call. We both checked the river and my 8 was good for a decent pot.

After that I had more chips than he did and he was not playing so many pots against me. An hour later he busted out much earlier than he needed to, making an all-in bluff check raise of a guy wth an overpair of QQ and left pissy.

I did a fine job building my stack at a new table that had worse players but more chips. I took control over the evening and was one of the chip leaders. My preflop raises weren’t getting many calls and I was playing bold. I reraised the big stack 3k preflop with 77 and flopped both the 7 and the A. I underbet the flop when he checked and when he bet 5k into me on the turn I moved in, hoping he would not be able to lay down AK. He got away though and I was left to wonder, even as I scooped a big pot, if I might have been able to get a lot more out of him with a smaller raise or even a flat call. I though the aggressive play would work because it would look weak and foolish, but I ultimately under-estimated the guy’s pragmatism. Even if he thought I was likely making a move, he was not going to risk 80% of his stack with top pair when he was chip leader at the table.

A short time later a tight player on a medium stack came first in from late position with a 1000 raise. I put him on a good but not great hand (66-99, AT, AJ, KQ) and jacked him up 2500 with, well, J5. He dumped it.

At the end of the night, I just lost my focus. I have never played 14 hours of poker under those conditions and I made some mistakes. I rasied the big stack with 22 when he bet into a board of 345 and he moved in on me. Whoops. I rivered 2 pair that made somebody else’s flush and lost some chips. It was hard to read because he had been on a straight draw and made the flush runner-runner, but I would have saved 4k by checking and calling instead of betting and then calling his subsequent raise. See my first poker corner for evidence of how I deviated from what I should have been doing in this spot.

Finally, I had a meltdown limping AhTh under the gun, a move I never should have made in the first place with close to 30k left near the end of the night. Somebody at the table said alound before folding “That’s the first time you’ve limped from early position in six hours. Very scary.”

I let it go to my head and bet out at the flop after hitting nothing, but thinking I could represent KK or AA. When the guy on the button flat called I should have shut down. I put him on a medium pocket pair and when the top card on board, a Q paired on the turn, I figured it was a great spot to bluff since I had him covered 3-1 in chips. This is where the brain stops working right after 14 hours. If I was representing an overpair, the Q should have SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME. You can’t switch the hand you are representing just becasue a better hand to represent comes along.

“How much do you have left?” I asked, and should have known from the way he said “Eleven Thousand” that I should leave it alone. But I bet out 7k and he moved in. I felt obligated to call the last 4k even though I thought I might be drawing dead. If he did have that medium pair, 6 outs were plenty to call 4k with a 20k pot.

He did, in fact have a medium pocket pair. That had flopped a set and the Q filled him up.

The number of mistakes on made on that hand…well I suppose with this treatise you could go back and count them.

All in all, though, I am very positive about my day. When Sunday comes, two-thirds of the field will be out, including I have heard Hellmuth, Negreanu, Men the Master, Jesus and a ton of other big name pros. To be honest, I think many of them may be burned out from playing here all month, and I predict about 70% of the final 30 or so players will be relative unknowns. Sucks to be ESPN.

I am very confident about tomorrow. I was totally unprepared for yesterday and proved to myself that I belong here–I can play with these guys and in fact can play better than a lot of them. Now I know what to expect. The real trick, it turns out, is finding a way to avoid making any mistakes over a 14 hour day of high-pressure poker.

We have 2/3 of a level remaining at 300-600 with 75 ante, so while my 15k is not large, it’s not critical yet. I am pretty comfortable playing that size a stack, and tend to feel more at ease when I am climbing than when I am leading. Average stack at the end of Sunday will be 60,000, so if I can climb back to 40k I should be okay. I truly believe I will make the money and have a shot to move deeper but tomorrow will be clearly be crucial.

Today I am going to relax–eat some stone crabs and buy a couple Tommy Bahama shirts with some of my cash game winnings from Wednesday night, then watch a movie in my room. I’ll be rested and ready for tomorrow. How I deal with Monday after playing all day Sunday I have no idea, but I plan on worrying about that after I count and bag my chips tomorrow night.

Thanks again to all of you, both here and back in in L.A.–I am blown away by your support and eternally grateful–I would not stand a chance without it. I hope I can make you guys proud.

All my love,

P.S. is listing one of the chip leaders, with over 100k as “Carmel Petresco, Las Vegas, NV”

Could it be? Can’t wait to see her…