Belgium Poker Championships
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Last year a few friends and I went over to Belgium by the Eurostar (which worked properly then) and played in the €1,500 entry Belgium Poker Championship – a fantastic 800-odd-player event with a remarkably slow structure.
A one-hour clock was good, but the number of levels was amazing. A 10,000 starting stack and levels like 20/40, 30/60, 40/80, 50/100, 60/120, 70/140 were a pleasure for players who like to play good, deep-stack poker, without having to go into shove-fold mode.
I went this year with the ginger whinger Mick McCool, again on the Eurostar to Brussels, followed by a local train to Namure. It was a late decision to go and I left my house the morning of the event (around 5am), getting there just before it started at 2pm.
The standard of the tournament the previous year was very poor for a €1,500 event and news of this had obviously spread, as there were many more experienced professional players from Holland, Germany and France
While the blinds were small (which was for a long period of time) I played fairly conservatively, effectively waiting for dead money to make mistakes. There is not a lot of point in making moves against players that could not fold a piece of paper, let alone a hand, with any distant chance of winning. As I have said in the past, there’s not much point in sending a message of strength to someone who cannot read.
I managed to increase my stack gradually and, on the few occasions I did make aggressive moves pre-flop, the opposition, in most cases, was sufficiently straight forward and passive that it was easy enough to try to win the pot without taking too much of a risk.
I got through to Day 1 pretty uneventfully and moved on to Day 2, where I was sat at a reasonably nice table and maintained my stack in relation to the average without much trouble. Then I was moved to a more aggressive table with a good Dutch professional to my left and a mindless German aggro-donk to my right. The agro-donk was typically predictable and about as sophisticated as a Millwall fan urinating on a tube train. If it was folded to him within three spots of the button, he raised, and if it was checked to him on any flop with any number of players, he bet, and nine times out of ten he folded to a re-raise.
With a good player to my left who was more than happy to three-bet quite regularly when he had position, I decided that if I was going to open light I needed to do it infrequently so that I would be more likely to get respect from the potential re-raiser.
I could have made moves on him when he re-raised me, on the reasonable assumption that his three-bet frequency clearly indicated that he did not require a premium hand, but not only were such flairy moves against my plodding nature, they also seemed unnecessarily risky when the general standard of opposition was so weak and the opportunity to win chips from other sources was so easy and non-risky.
That principal did not stop me from three betting the aggro-donk on numerous occasions; particularly when he raised after the tournament breaks were announced and players were generally leaving the table and showing little interest.
On Day 3 I started on a lovely table with several weak-tight players to my left. I soon got into a rhythm of raising like the aggro-donk almost every time it was folded to me within three spots of the button. Usually I raised without looking at my cards, and then, if called, would make a standard continuation bet, and only look at my cards if that bet was called.
In one hand I did this, continuation-betting on a flop of A-9-5, and was called by a very tight player in the small blind.
The turn was six and he checked to me again. At this point I looked at my cards – a rather unpromising K-3 off suit. I think, given the likelihood of regaining the chips so far “lost” in the hand, I should have made a flairy open-fold, but I made the typical “mistake” of many players playing the aggro-donk method (even though I was doing so with more control than most).
I often tell people in poker seminars that, given that non made hands will miss the flop about two times in three, it is not sensible to try to make someone fold when you think they have a hand, when there are so many opportunities to try to make them fold when they have not got a hand. So did I give up? Of course not. I decided he must have a weak ace and, as long as it’s not something like A-5 (I think he would have check-raised rather than check-called on the flop with better than one pair, unless he hit a set), if I bet big enough I could make him fold. So I did, he shoved and I folded like a cheap tent.
I managed to get through to Day 4 with a decent stack and soon made it down to the last two tables.
With 14 players left, I was feeling very confident that I would get to the final table. I had almost final-table-average stack and, although I now had two decent aggressive players on my table, they were in a position that enabled me to stay away from them, in order to battle with the less tricky straightforward locals.
The blinds were now quite high and so any raised pot was likely to be significant.
I raised twice from mid-position with K-J suited and A-J suited and was re-raised by each of the good players. Next I was in the big blind with 8cTc. A fairly straightforward player limps for 16K in the cut-off and an equally non-tricky player raises to 40K and is called by the player in the small blind. I call for the extra 24K and the player in the cut-off also calls. The flop is JcTs4d. It’s checked to the pre-flop raiser who bets 50K into a pot of about 170K. This seemed a weak bet and, with the player in the small blind folding, I could have re-raised here, although I would effectively be bluffing as I wouldn’t get called by a worse hand (except perhaps K-Q, which might be the only hand that I was beating with which he would raise pre-flop with, bet the flop and call a check raise). I also had to consider the cut-off limper, who could check both with and without a hand. There was little information to go on with him, although as he was non-tricky, it wouldn’t need a risky re-raise to determine his strength, because he was very unlikely to bluff re-raise due to the weak nature of the continuation bet.
I decided to call and re-evaluate on the turn, and the player behind also called after some thought. The turn card was 9c, leaving me with second pair (which could have been winning on the flop) and an open-ended straight-flush draw.
I checked again (to get cheap information from my opponents from their betting patterns). The player behind checked and the player on the button now bet 90K (into a pot of 320K). Now, at this point, I considered re-raising because of the second weak bet, but because I was dealing with an unsophisticated player, I took the almost doubling of his bet to indicate that he liked the turn card. There was also a possibility that either of my opponents were holding K-Q, which would obviously not fold to a re-raise.
So I called. The player behind folded and we went to the river which was 2s. I did not see that there was much point in bluffing here as he obviously liked his hand and there was not a whole lot I could reasonably represent (although I am not sure he would have engaged in that type of thought process, to be honest). He checked behind and showed a set of nines, which was a bit disappointing.
So having been holding final-table-average chips, I was now below average for the tournament and not feeling very good about the whole thing.
There was a nerdy “player” on my right who appeared to have little understanding of poker or, indeed, civilized behaviour in the presence of other human beings (I think he must have been from Paris). He had moved all-in with ridiculous over-bets four times in 30 minutes, on one occasion raising from the small blind to 35k and then moving all-in for 300k on the flop of A-T-4, showing T-9 when his opponent folded.
I was in the small blind for 8K and a player in mid position who had just joined the table raised to 50K. I called (with T-T) and the all-in monkey next to me moved in for about 400K. The initial raiser folded and it was back to me to call another 350K into a pot of 500K. I would not normally like to play such a big pot with just T-T, especially against a field of generally average players. But the fact that I was eager to get something going and had recently experienced a series of losing hands encouraged me to “take the gamble”. The fact that it was the table all-in monkey who had shoved also swayed me towards a call. While he clearly didn’t want to play flops with anyone, I thought it seemed unlikely he would make such a big bet with, say, A-A to Q-Q, and, as he would make such a bet with A-K maybe A-Q, most pairs and also all bluffs, I was probably unlikely to be worse than a coin-flip (unless he had J-J).
Even though the logic of the call is reasonably sound, I think (and I am not saying this with a results-orientated hat on) it was ill-disciplined due to a temporary lack of patience caused by the disappointment of losing several hands.
I called, he showed aces, danced about a bit and fist pumped, which I hoped he might get rewarded for by losing, but his hand stood up and I was now quite short.
A few hands later, one of the other French players, who I had been advised was a good player, raised under the gun from 20K to 45K I re-raised to 190K (with 90k behind and clearly not folding at any point) and it was folded back to him and he called. The flop was K-Q-T and he set me in. I reluctantly called, but was pleased to see him show a very creative A-4 off suit. I was back in the game now if my hand held, but unfortunately the river was a jack to give him Broadway and he proceeded to jump around, fist-pumping with some of his friends while I walked around the table shaking hands and wishing good luck to the remaining players.
I suggested to him that showing some class might have been appropriate but I think that was like telling Arsene Wenger to open his eyes when one of his players commits a red card offense.
I ended up with €8,800 when the first prize was €300,000-odd. Slightly better than a kick in the nuts, but still very disappointing.